Gallery visit: Maggi Hambling – Touch, Works on Paper

10th January 2017 British Museum

For someone starting out on a drawing course Maggi Hambling is an inspiration and a challenge. She  is passionate about drawing. In an interview with a journalist (See Telegraph Review below) she describes:

Whether in Suffolk or London, she gets up at 5am in summer and 6am in winter and the first thing she does is draw something – anything. (She spurns the word “sketch” because it suggests something casual.) “Drawing is the beginning of everything for me. It is the most immediate, most intimate thing an artist does, like handwriting. I have to renew that sense of touch on the paper each morning, before I start work on a painting or a piece of sculpture.”

The exhibition is relatively small but I spent most of a morning just wanting to look at these beautiful, sensuous and moving drawings. It gave a particular insight into Hambling’s passion for drawing and for the people she draws. Touch is such a good title for the exhibition as I felt I had been touched not just by a powerful drawing but by the personality of her subjects.

‘I believe the subject chooses the artist, not vice versa, and that subject must then be in charge during the act of drawing in order for the truth to be found. Eye and hand attempt to discover and produce those precise marks which recreate what the heart feels. The challenge is to touch the subject, with all the desire of a lover.’ Maggi Hambling

I felt almost hypnotised by the immediacy and poignancy of the drawings of her father painting and her mother in death.

The images etched on my memory, partly because drawings of people in death are not common. Someone’s death is an intimate, private moment.. As one reviewer commented she excels at nailing the intimate (Timeout Review, see below)

I particularly liked the controlled fluidity of the drawing of her father painting (he took up painting in later life) and the delicate pencil work of her recently dead mother in her sketch book.  Her work with line is really impressive and it was good to be able to examine how she builds up an in image with layers of line and marks and sometimes including smudges with her fingers,; in fact, drawing with her fingers. img_20170123_172847

The following charcoal drawing of ‘Henrietta’ 1998 is a particularly powerful image of an eccentric woman from Soho who was painted many times by Francis Bacon. This demonstrates very well her work with varied marks and line to give form to the head and yet also depth to the eyes and the creation of the searching gaze that was characteristic of her subject.

Hambling describes (in the exhibition  notes) how the practice of drawing from life had been instilled to her and fellow students at Ipswich Art School and how, “The training of hand and eye to convey what the heart feels scribble-facestarted here”.

This style of mark making, almost of controlled scribbling, can create a very dramatic  image, full of character. Here is a small experiment of mine inspired by Hambling and also using techniques from Part 1 of the course. The subject is a random face from a magazine. Whilst it is not a recognisable face it does create impact and is a technique and freedom I should like to develop.

One of my favourite writers on art and culture is John Berger (1926 – 2017) His seminal work  Ways of Seeing Ways of Seeing is a 1972 television series of 30-minute films ( broadcast on BBC2 in January 1972 and adapted into a book of the same name had a great impact generally and introduced me to the idea that our ‘seeing’ is, in part, determined by our cultural spectacles and encourages us to deconstruct what we think we see to examine our cultural and political  assumptions.  I loved therefore seeing Hambling’s drawing of John Berger,  with it’s nakedness and penetrating eyes, so poignant as it was barely a week after he had died in France on January 2nd 2017


“To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognised for oneself.” John Berger Ways of Seeing


7 thoughts on “Gallery visit: Maggi Hambling – Touch, Works on Paper

  1. I’m so pleased you put these sketches up – living in France I miss this great stuff that’s on in London. Did you see the BBC series Making Their Mark: Six Artists on Drawing? The Maggie Hambling one is the only one I saw and yes, she is very inspiring. Pretty sure it’s still on iplayer, maybe youtube too? Worth checking if you haven’t seen it. Kim

    1. Thank you. It was a beautiful exhibition. Her work is so full of life, I would love to be able to draw as she does. Hope you get to some exhibitions soon. Maybe Paris?

  2. Paris still an eight hour drive away! Every so often I get to London and do a 24-hour blitz on galleries, not ideal but something. There is a great blog I follow that you might like if you don’t already know it – – or if you google ‘that’s how the light gets in gerry’ you’ll find it. He covers wonderful everything in culture, a big fan of John Berger too – wrote a lovely piece on him just after his death.

    1. Thanks again. That’s a great link and I look forward to looking in more detail later. Sorry to hear about your difficulties seeing art. It seems strange given that southern France was the origin of many of the world’s greatest paintings. It makes me very appreciative of the many opportunities we have in the UK. I live further North in England but we have excellent galleries and good exhibitions in Manchester and Liverpool as well as in many smaller places like Kendal in Cumbria (Abbot Hall Gallery). I don’t get to London that often and just after Christmas the visits I have been writing up were all done over a 3 day visit. Quite tiring but they were brilliant. I now need to tackle Rauschenberg!!


      Ian Stubbs

      1. Yes it’s the big embarrassment of Provence that there is but one Van Gogh in the whole of the region, and in Cezanne’s home town of Aix just ten of his works – all second rate. On the coast there are some decent galleries, but small and not much turn over. A few years ago I went to Liverpool for my birthday (I’m a Bunnymen fan) and was blown away by the Walker Gallery. Anyway well done on your 3-day gallery trip. I can well imagine that was exhausting but probably feels good to get it all written up!

  3. I am very much an amateur but an art lover nonetheless. Paper is my favorite canvas, all types of paper. I love the way different media sounds against it, it’s musical. Pencil hitting paper is like taking one’s self back to basics, back to the root of things. It’s grounding. Lead density changes the notes of the song as does the length of the pencil.

    I believe that when I put paper in front of me the right image is already there but it’s up to the artist to bring it forward.

    I didn’t realize this was a practice, this sentence here – “The training of hand and eye to convey what the heart feels scribble-facestarted here”
    I have a book of something along this premise. I close my eyes and trace my body on the paper, placing lines where there is emotion in my body. I let the pencil go as long as it needs to, all with my eyes closed. I think I’d like to read a bit more about this concept. I suspect it has immense therapeutic value.

    I end each evening with reading then a final sketch. It appears my need for pencil on paper type grounding is in the evening, not the morning.

    I enjoyed the article very much.

    SUNDRIP – Art for Life

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