Artist Maggie Hambling has mentioned in the past that people find her terrifying ..maybe a more accurate description would be intimidating? She holds her power well, she is a strong character, one who knows her own mind and is a talent that strives daily (every morning getting up at 5 am in order to go asap to her studio) to find the magic spark that brings her work alive, the spark that gives it purpose, the light that brings it alive. Look at her self-portrait at the new exhibition The quick and the Dead at the Jerwood gallery Hastings. What stares back at you? Someone intimidating? Frightening? Powerful? Angry? Scared? Humorous? Cheeky? …It’s all there and it’s up to each and every viewer to decide for themselves how they choose to view this amazing artist for themselves.
Self-portrait oil on canvas 2017 © the artist
However, in many ways, this portrait feels very personal, almost private. In many ways it would do, as it sits in an exhibition that also feels personal, enclosed and deeply moving to the point of painful (it has its light moments too). It is one of the self-portraits done by Maggie Hambling in an exhibition including a small group of artists whose lives have crisscrossed over several decades and includes Sarah Lucas, (the late) Sebastian Horsley, Jergen Teller and Julian Simmons, called The Quick & the Dead: Hambling – Horsley – Lucas – Simmons – Teller
At the very epicentre is Horsely who initially introduced Sarah and Maggie, who happen to share the same birthday. This artist was, and is still, infamous, a self-proclaimed dandy (who lived by the rules outlined for one) who for a collection of works saw him travel to the Philippines to crucify himself, in order to prepare for a series of paintings regarding the subject matter. A film and photos of the event, as well as his paintings of crosses, were exhibited in London in 2002.
One room at the exhibition is dedicated to images Maggie Hambling has produced of Sebastian Horsely post-death, and she has stated (as death has crossed paths with her, losing many friends over the years) “is a positive way to go on grieving because we keep the people we love in our mind and hearts so painting is the positive way of grieving…rather than just being miserable”
These artist friends, who have portrayed each other at different moments, are being displayed together for the first time this autumn at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings. The exhibition centres on paintings and drawings made over the past decade by Maggi Hambling, in which she has portrayed her friends. These works are in dialogue with portraits of Maggie, made by each of the artists, with the exception of Horsley, who died in 2010.
The five artists are a radically eclectic bunch and each piece is true to each artists style. For example, Sarah Lucus’s portrait of Maggie is an upside down toilet bowl suspended in the air by a wire hanger with two lightbulbs strategically placed, whilst Sarah’s own self-portrait is made up of cigarettes in a frame.
Magi, 2012, Sarah Lucas © Sarah Lucas, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
Beside the extremely powerful self-portrait Maggie created, is a fascinating photograph of her by Jergen Teller. He was commissioned by a magazine to do her portrait. Both somewhat reticent about meeting, they bonded quickly and as Jergen took the photograph Maggie sketched him. One photographing the other while the other drew back. The power of the image is startling and the drawings (a set of 4) are breathtakingly beautiful. All these images give across a sense of immediacy, power, fear and love. They pull you in and scar you away all at the same time…they are compellingly addictive.
Maggi Hambling No.2, Suffolk 2018 © Juergen Teller, All rights Reserved
She talks of her creative muse and of the connection whilst working on ‘the eye, the hand and the heart’. “Sometimes I can work on a painting for months on end and it finally dies because they can come alive and die quite a lot, and then it has to be gotten rid of just because some paintings have to die. But then, I can make a painting in a morning”.
For her it’s all about when the muse is there, when she is (as athletes talk of ) in the zone, she says.
“I try to be a channel for the truth of what I’m painting, to come through me, onto the canvas or paper or sculpture; I’m in the studio every day, but the muse arrives, when it arrives these are the moments I live for, the muse arrives, the painting paints itself”.
The exhibition, on the whole, does give insight, a rare view of artists’ private worlds and private work. It feels like a privilege to walk through space and share such personal stories expressed through works of art: works, produced obviously with both love and humour. It is a little akin to crashing a dinner party held by them, a night you will never forget because great artworks stay with you and as Maggie says “you never want to stop looking at a Rembrandt it keeps on giving”.