Cre­ative spirit

Pain­ter Maggi Ham­bling has pro­duced a book ded­i­cated to her fa­ther Harry’s own artis­tic en­deav­our

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Cather­ine Larner PHO­TOS: Cour­tesy Maggi Ham­bling

Maggi Ham­bling’s tribute to her pain­ter fa­ther, Harry

There was no an­swer to my knock on the front door, and no sign of life be­yond bees busy in the hedge and the cot­tage win­dows hang­ing wide open. Pon­der­ing whether my ap­point­ment might have been over­looked, I stood on the gravel drive and won­dered what to do next. Sud­denly, above the hum of a lawn­mower, a fa­mil­iar voice boomed out from the barn be­yond the fence. Maggi Ham­bling was at home, al­though ev­i­dently on the phone.

In­side the tall, black barn, a stun­ning, bright, white, open stu­dio space, there were paint­ings every­where, hang­ing on the walls and stacked one against an­other, lean­ing on ta­bles, chairs, boxes. Sev­eral were wait­ing to be packed for a forth­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion and, as she sat at her desk in the mid­dle of the room, Maggi whisked through her di­ary, con­cerned at how lit­tle time she had to fin­ish the work, light­ing a cig­a­rette as she snatched the pages back and forth.

Maggi’s rep­u­ta­tion as an ac­claimed pain­ter and sculp­tor grows apace. In Suf­folk we know her best for her Scal­lop on Alde­burgh beach, her memeris­ing seascapes and por­traits, and her some­times out­spo­ken and colour­ful pub­lic ap­pear­ances. She con­tin­ues to work from home in the county.

“I am in here ev­ery day, very early,” she says. “I work ev­ery day oth­er­wise I’d go pot­tier than I am al­ready. Just oc­ca­sion­ally some­thing goes right. When it does, it’s as if some­thing else is paint­ing the paint­ing. It just

hap­pens and I am not in charge of it.” Two faces look down from the back wall. A large self-por­trait hangs along­side a paint­ing of Maggi’s fa­ther, Harry Ham­bling. It is Harry’s in­flu­ence on her life and work that is cur­rently dom­i­nat­ing Maggi’s think­ing.

“For most peo­ple it’s true that when some­body dies, if you love them, they go on liv­ing in­side you,” she says. “There are two or three new paint­ings of fa­ther from mem­ory.” Harry died in 1998 at the age of 95. He had lived all his life in Suf­folk but only on re­tir­ing from his work in the bank in Hadleigh did he take up paint­ing, en­cour­aged by Maggi. His pic­tures were much ad­mired and col­lected, and fa­mously, in a joint ex­hi­bi­tion with his in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed daugh­ter in 1988, all of Harry’s paint­ings sold, but only one of Maggi’s.

‘The whole of Suf­folk was in­side him and it poured out when he be­gan to paint’

The pic­tures in bold, vi­brant colours have a pow­er­ful sense of place, cap­tur­ing mo­ments of Suf­folk life – the jum­ble sale, the bowls match, road­menders, a black­smith. There are pow­er­ful por­traits, farm­ing scenes and land­scapes.

“He was a to­tally nat­u­ral pain­ter,” Maggi says. “It’s quite wrong to call him a prim­i­tive. The whole of Suf­folk was in­side him and it poured out when he be­gan to paint.” This year, Maggi pro­duced a book, cel­e­brat­ing Harry’s life, called

A Suf­folk Eye. “He painted a great many paint­ings, so it was a ques­tion of what to leave out, but I think it gives a com­pre­hen­sive, chrono­log­i­cal se­lec­tion of his work.”

De­signed with Gra­ham Rees, and with re­search from Jamie Gil­ham, the book pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the re­la­tion­ship be­tween fa­ther and daugh­ter. “Through­out my child­hood and teenage years Fa­ther was, for me, an un­ap­proach­able fig­ure. But when he was 65 and I was 22, Fa­ther’s restless cre­ative spirit fi­nally dis­cov­ered paint­ing and we were strangers no more.” There is one pic­ture, Haystack in Ris­ing Mist, which con­tin­ues to fas­ci­nate Maggi. She ex­plained how she once mocked her fa­ther’s pre­sen­ta­tion of this “solid hor­i­zon­tal wall of mist”.

“Last au­tumn – or was it ear­lier this year? I never re­mem­ber when I’ve done any­thing – I thought I’d have a go at paint­ing a Suf­folk mist my­self. But it didn’t work. I couldn’t do it, so I turned the can­vas up­side down and an im­age of fa­ther ap­peared.” His in­flu­ence on her is pro­found and she ad­mits this book is long over­due.

“Many peo­ple have sug­gested to me over the years that I pro­duce a book of my fa­ther’s work, and I am very pleased that I’ve fi­nally done it. There is a record for pos­ter­ity. I hope he’s smil­ing down.”

A Suf­folk Eye is pub­lished by Lux Books

ABOVE: Two Oaks at Pol­stead by Harry Ham­blingTOP RIGHT: Harry Ham­bling at an ex­hi­bi­tion of his workABOVE RIGHT: Harry Ham­bling A Suf­folk EyeRIGHT: Two Her­rings by Harry Ham­bling

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