Wall of Water

Maggi Hambling in her studio

Maggi Hambling in her studio - Credit: Archant

Maggi Hambling’s on-going love affair with the sea makes a big splash at the National Gallery in London this month with the unveiling of a new series of paintings created after a storm at Southwold. Andrew Clarke gained a sneak preview at her Suffolk studio

Wall of Water by Maggi Hambling

Wall of Water by Maggi Hambling - Credit: Archant

For more than a decade, Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling has been exploring Suffolk’s relationship with the sea.

Her paintings that capture the tempestuous sea have been created as a result of early morning walks along the shingle and cliff tops between Aldeburgh and Southwold. It is her quiet time – time to be alone with her thoughts and to marvel at the ever-changing nature of the sea, as waves continue to chew away at our coastline and smash against protective concrete walls.

Having displayed her paintings at The Hermitage in St Petersberg last year, this month Maggi is unveiling a new series of six-foot paintings, entitled Walls of Water, at The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

Maggi gave me a sneak preview of the eight paintings in her north Suffolk studio along with a ninth, slightly smaller painting, dedicated to the singer Amy Winehouse. “These pictures have never been seen before. They are entirely new. This is my first London exhibition for four years.”

Wall of Water - Amy Winehouse

Wall of Water - Amy Winehouse - Credit: Archant

She has also recently held large scale exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam Musuem in Cambridge and at Salford Quays as part of a Lowry landscape retrospective, but she hasn’t had a large London show for the best part of a decade.

“I started work on them towards the end of 2010. They were inspired by alarmingly, unnervingly high waves crashing against the sea wall at Southwold. There was nature pounding at our defences. It was as if it was dissolving the seawall. It was nature at its most primeval attacking this quiet Suffolk community.

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“That’s why they were called Wall of Water because they are quite literally a terrifying wall of water coming towards you and there’s the double meaning that they are created when they strike this physical concrete wall – it’s nature coming into conflict with us.”

She said that because she hadn’t shown in London for so long, she wanted to make a statement with the new show. “I have been working away here in Suffolk since then, putting together a show which explains and demonstrates what I have been doing.

“The reason I am so excited about this show is that I feel so many things have come together. They combine influences from the sunrise paintings of the ‘80s, the sea paintings which began in 2002 and the laugh paintings of the 1990s and all these various influences have come together in these Walls of Water paintings.

“With my sea paintings you can see all sorts of things in them. People ask: ‘Did you mean to put so and so in there?’ I love it that people see all sorts of things in the water. Of course it’s all sub-conscious. I paint what I see and what I feel.”

Maggi said the purpose of these works was to capture the power of the sea as the waves were forced upwards in what appears to be an explosion of water.

From a viewer’s perspective, although these vast canvases contain a still image, the movement Maggi has generated with the oil paint has produced a painting that appears to be animated. You almost feel the spray flying out of the painting, and the water washing over the concrete wall depicted at the foot of the canvas and out over the studio floor.

Movement, activity and colour combine to bring these paintings alive. It is as if you are also out in that storm, witnessing the elemental power that nature can summon when she wishes.

“I believe that you can make things move in oils in way that you can’t do in photography. Photography is a moment in time, but a painting captures something which you can feel yourself getting caught up in.”