‘Every portrait is a bit like a love affair.’
Born in 1945 in Suffolk, Maggi Hambling CBE is an artist who works across multiple mediums. Hambling has studied at the Ipswich School of Art, Camberwell School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art. Hambling's first exhibition was of her paintings and drawings at Hadleigh Gallery, Suffolk in 1967. Hambling has since exhibited her work extensively at galleries around the world, including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Serpentine Gallery, Somerset House, Marlborough Fine Art and the British Museum in London. Internationally, Hambling has also exhibited her work at the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut, U.S.A., The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia and both the Guangdong Museum of Art and the CAFA Art Museum in China.
In 1980, Hambling became the National Gallery's first artist in residence, during her time in this role, the artist saw Max Wall in his one-man show Aspects of Max Wall and found the show so powerful that she asked to do his portrait. The resulting 15 paintings and 23 studies were the subject of an exhibition at the National portrait Gallery in 1983. In 1995, Hambling was awarded the Jerwood Prize for Painting. In the same year, the artist was awarded an OBE for her services to painting and a subsequent CBE in 2010. Hambling's Self-Portrait (2011) was acquired by Ruth Borchard Collection in 2011.
Hambling is also an adept and highly-regarded sculptor. In 1995, Hambling was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to create a memorial sculpture of Oscar Wilde. The resulting granite sarcophagus featuring a bust of Wilde was installed on The Strand in central London and unveiled in 1998. Hambling has since been commissioned to create memorials to Benjamin Britten in 2003 and Mary Wollstonecraft in 2018. Amidst the creation of commissioned sculptures, Hambling has created and exhibited sculptures in both plaster and bronze.
Hambling is known for both her sculptures and intricate land and seascapes. Hambling's painting is almost sculptural in style, her dynamic seascapes as energetic as they are explosive. With her seascapes, Hambling creates a visual metaphor for the experience of life and death, each canvas a variation on the theme of mortality. Many of Hambling's portraits often meditate on this same theme, memorials of figures such as Dorothy Hodgkin and Amy Winehouse. Hambling's landscapes have been known to metamorphose into images of dead loved ones, her father's face emerging from a painting that began as morning mist. Hambling views portraiture as a deeply intimate artform, having said that 'Every portrait is a bit like a love affair.'
Hambling's self-portrait is akin to her seascapes in its dynamism. The painting shows the artist metamorphosing, her features at once emerging from and fading into her swirling brushstrokes. The smoke of Hambling's cigarette draws the eye upwards to the clock in the upper right-hand corner of the work, an overt symbol of the sense of impermanence Hambling's portraits seek to capture.