Summer Shorts 45 – Portraits and Ageing. Discovering Maggi Hambling.

In my first blog review/discussion this April of the new 2020 book Literature and Ageing, I noted the beautifully arresting front cover image, Self Portrait by British artist Maggi Hambling.

Until then, sadly I had not heard of Hambling, and I mused that I might do a future, feature post about her. So here it is, one of my 10th annual July Summer Shorts.

As it happens, Maggi Hambling is quite the fierce, dynamic artist, with the distinction of becoming in 1980, the first National Gallery Artist in Residence and right around the corner in the National Portrait Gallery in London she has several of her portraits featured. Yet these are only two small starting points to mention of her story, one that what amounts to be a long, full, and one might say, lust for life career as a painter, sculptor who has plenty to say about the world around her.

In my first run, researching, reading and watching videos of Maggi Hambling, I quickly knew why her self-portrait on the cover of Literature and Ageing captured my attention. It provided a clue to the essence of her as a person. To evidence what I mean, I suggest you view this 2017 YouTube interview – Maggi Hambling, In Conversation. Trust me. You will never forget her and forever want to sit and drink a stiff malt scotch with her while discussing life and death and art.

In this video, Hambling talks you briskly and humorously, through a range of her paintings and sculptures creating an effect (at least for me), as if you were almost right there with her. Hambling offered so many insightful comments with often brusque delivery, that long after the video, you will still hear in your head. For instance, while sharing her own reactions to what she had painted, Hambling said, “I live in doubt most of the time.” Somehow hearing her, that thought wasn’t scary to me.

To celebrate her 75th birthday in 2020, the BBC produced a documentary (now available on Apple TV) titled Maggi Hambling: Making Love with the Paint.

After what I’ve gleaned in this short space of time, I’d say that exactly describes her as an artist. On the left is the BBC photo of Hambling, and looking at it I am reminded of her quip in the 2017 video, where she showed her Beethoven portrait – “I’ve always been told I look like Beethoven.”

Alarmingly wonderful, direct, honest and timeless, Maggi Hambling.

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