Simply, I was utterly blown away by this collection of new paintings and sculpture from Maggi Hambling, currently on display at Marlborough Fine Art. Such urgent, critical themes captured in such devastating and extraordinary works. Ice caps melting, Aleppo collapsing, and refugees fleeing in boats on dangerous seas… And all captured in large canvases with an energy that captivates you completely. Big brushstrokes, a compelling use of colour and texture… Forceful and energetic.
Maggi is widely regarded as one of Britain’s most significant and controversial artists. This a woman who describes her studio as ‘a torture chamber.’ And you sense this huge excavation of emotion in these works. There’s such a psychological intensity to them.
The melting ice caps grabbed me first. The subject matter easily recognisable in the canvases of glistening pearl white oils on black backgrounds. The thick compressed icebergs loom large in the top half of these paintings. But they are crumbling. Great chunks of oils and thick drips fill the bottom halves; paint falling and draining away down the canvas.
Her paintings on refugees on the high seas and Aleppo are an intriguing blend of figuration and abstraction. The choppy waves of the Mediterranean and the destruction of Aleppo are represented with thick strokes of paint, whether they be blue, grey, or blood red. But look closer (or step back, rather) and you can make out forms. The outline of a boat, the minarets of mosques, snipers in towers, or armed veiled figures.
These are confrontational works. Confronting both the issues head on, and us. These new works succeed in in convincing us that we are present at, and indeed become part of, their making. As the title of the show and many of the paintings infer, we are “on the edge”. These works confront us with the trauma and fragility of our existence, and the fragility of our ecosystem.
And the same intensity can be found in her paintings of Hamlet and of Leonard Cohen. In her Hamlet, his head seems to be collapsing under the weight of over-thinking and the darkness of depression. Whereas her portrait of Leonard Cohen has a man whose imagination shimmers like gold, yet this beautiful mind is draining away in rivers.
These are works that demand our attention – and demand an emotional response.
Marlborough Fine Art, London, to April 13, 2017
All installation images by me. You can find more images on my Facebook page.