Saturday, 6 December 2014


Wall of Water, Amy Winehouse (detail), 2011,oil on canvas, (c) Maggie Hambling, photo Douglas Atfield
Walk up the steps from Trafalgar Square past the flame throwers and acrobats and artists and go through the main entrance into the National Gallery. Turn left after a further flight of stairs, push open the door to Room 1 - and there you will find a new series of paintings by Maggi Hambling, one of the most significant and controversial painters and sculptors in England. Eight of her canvases, each measuring over six by seven feet, line the walls. There is also a ninth smaller work, a detail of which is above, painted in response to the death of Amy Winehouse in 2011. Maggi Hambling was the first National Gallery Artist in Residence (1980-81), and now has returned with 'Wall of Water' (2010), work which has never been seen in public before.  

The waves, frozen in a moment of time, seem to be physically - almost noisily - present, poised between animation and disintegration, between life and death. Look closer and flickering ghosts of people and animals appear and disappear within them. In some paintings exuberant colours contrast  with the stark blacks and whites of a related group of monotypes.  

The one crucial thing that only painting can do is to make you feel as if you’re there while it’s being created – as if it’s happening in front of you.” Maggi Hamblling

I'm intrigued.The artist affirms painting’s immediacy. She has recreated in paint gigantic waves which crash onto the sea wall at a real place, Southwold, in Suffolk, the county where she was born, still lives, and which has often inspired her work. I too have known the waves on the Suffolk coast for many years. It 'makes you feel as if you're there'?   Being present during the act of painting? Or at the moment when, in the wind and to the sound of shifting shingle, the wave itself - as unique as any artwork -  is being created?  

Peder Balke, The Tempest (detail), about 1862, (c) The National Gallery London

While at the Gallery, step through the central hall to the nearby Sunley Room. You will be able to appreciate how Walls of Water offers a fascinating contemporary parallel to  the seascapes and landscapes of the Norwegian artist Peder Balke (1804-1887)
.            (free entry 361 days of the year)

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