Maggi Hambling – Touch: Works on Paper

Art, Drawing and illustration Free
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Dead parents, a stuffed rhinoceros and Stephen Fry have all been immortalised by Maggi Hambling, and you can see all three in ‘Touch’, an exhibition of 40 of her drawings spanning five decades. She’s been a pivotal figure in recent British art history, but is this simple show of works on paper enough to distract from the furore caused by her more controversial public sculptures (most notably ‘A Conversation with Oscar Wilde’ just off The Strand)?

Hambling is strongest when she’s capturing the fine detail of facial features. The shrewd-yet-inquisitive expression of writer John Berger unfurls in short, sharp strokes, and the drooping three-part portrait of Stephen Fry’s face, who falls asleep as she paints him, is pretty funny. But at times you just want to reach right into her portraits and untangle the sitter from the competing mass of swirling lines.

The best drawings here break free from the figurative. In ‘Beryl Reclining’, the ink is manipulated into the voluptuous female form by Hambling’s fag-stained fingertips. It’s finger-painting. If drawing is like handwriting for Hambling, then this series is where she communicates the language of the body most clearly. But the drawings of waves on show fail to evoke the full force of the Suffolk sea, the vast bulk of water an unruly subject for an artist who excels at nailing the intimate rather than the monumental.

Hambling says art school taught her ‘the training of hand and eye to convey what the heart feels’. These unforgiving portraits of loved ones dead or dying, captured in charcoal and ink, are an attempt to hold on to that person – to create one final lasting memory to counter the finality of their death. And if nothing else in this exhibition, that's something we can all relate to.

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