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.
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 started 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 (https://youtu.be/0pDE4VX_9Kk) 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