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