Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Maggi Hambling

Picking through a recently published history of the National Gallery by Jonathan Conlin, I noticed he had listed Jock McFadyen as the gallery's first artist-in-residence. In fact the honour went to Maggi Hambling, an inspired choice for this novel position. Gruff, impatient and straight-talking in the polite and slightly fey world of curatorial delicatesse, a furious smoker in a non-smoking environment, outrageous, hat-wearing and paint-covered, Maggi at first seemed like a being from another planet when she first arrived at the gallery. Used to painting in natural light, she was of course allocated a studio space almost entirely without daylight, and instead lit wholly with spotlights. After some expletives, Maggi went on to do a series of atmospheric sketches and portrait paintings making use of the strong shadows and highlights thrown by the spots. I have a charcoal sketch from 1980 for a painting she called Mac with Shadows, which the gallery now owns. I remember wandering into her studio once and finding her with her trousers round her ankles having a pee in the sink, the loos being too far away. I of course was covered with confusion. Maggi was hooting with laughter. She was marvellous with the public, and established the role of artist-in-residence as firmly as if it had been running for a decade.

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