considers the different techniques she uses to communicate movement in her drawing, painting and printmaking and some of the learnings for my own printmaking practice.
Other notes and video links
Overview of her work
for British Museum ‘Touch’ exhibition 2016
“The border-line between what is tragic and what is comic interests me…They are a pathetic human way of trying to come to terms with the fact of our own death, the fact of other peoples’ deaths, the fact of the horror we see on the news everyday, the terrible things that happen. Some moments you cry, other moments you laugh” (Conversation with Judith Collins Hambling 1993 p13)
Drawing and portraits
My first introduction to Maggi Hambling was through the ‘George always’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2009.
Then her wave and Walls of Water paintings shown at the National Gallery. These include a series of monotypes first shown at Malborough Fine Art (see the exhibition), then the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the National Gallery.
More recently her work has been more political with the exhibitions, dealing with topics like global warming, migration and war:
Hambling, M. (1993). Towards Laughter. Sunderland, UK, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art.
Hambling, M. (1998). maggi & henrietta.
Hambling, M. (2006). Maggi Hambling the Works and Conversations with Andrew Lambirth. London, Unicorn Press Ltd.
Hambling, M. (2009). The Sea. Salford Quays, The Lowry Press.
Hambling, M. (2009). You Are the Sea. Great Britain, Lux Books.
Hambling, M. (2015). War, Requiem and Aftermath. London, Unicorn Press Ltd.
Ramkalawon, J. (2016). Maggi Hambling Touch: works on paper. London, Lund Humphries and British Museum.
Cornelia Ann Parker OBE, RA (born 1956) is an English sculptor and installation artist. Her work covers sculpture, photography, performance. Her work is often in collaboration with institutions dealing with political as well as psychological themes.
Her ‘violent acts’, the light textures cast by many of her sculptures and use of found objects were an inspiration for Project 5.2 Arcadia Recycled
Videos and interviews
“Beauty is too easy,” says the 56-year-old British artist Cornelia Parker. “Often in my work I take beautiful objects and do extreme things to them, so that they are overlaid with something a bit more sinister and violent.” She laughs. “I’m sure an analyst could have a field day on me.”
Andrew Salgado is a Canadian artist who works in London and has exhibited his work around the world. His paintings are large-scale works of portraiture that incorporate elements of abstraction and symbolic meaning.
Portraits as a ‘likeness’ of an individual captured through painting, drawing and/or photography have been a part of human culture since prehistoric times. However portraits can have many different purposes that affect the way in which the concept of ‘likeness’ is interpreted, the form of ‘capturing’. Portraits vary widely in for example:
what is portrayed? is this a portrait of the face only (eg frontal, side or three quarters view)? is it just head and shoulders (what attitude?) is it the full body (what posture)? or part of the body only (eg hands? eyes? feet?) ? or is the main focus on context (some portraits contain objects and environment of the sitter without the sitter themselves)
external or internal ‘reality’? is the aim mainly a figurative likeness of external appearance? or more a ‘capturing of inner soul’ that permits abstraction and exaggeration of shapes, colours etc? or does it try to do both?
This is often affected by:
the relationship between the person portrayed and the person doing the portrayal: who commissioned it? who is paying? who is in control of the decisions?
was the portrait commissioned by the subject? why and for whom? how do they wish themselves to be represented?
was the portrait instigated by the artist? using a paid model? or a friend/lover etc? why and for whom? do they have a specific artistic style?
the context in which the portrait is to be viewed:
is it a private, personal painting to be seen by a few close friends and family members who know the person well?
does the intended audience have particular views about what is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ portrait? or are they more interested in innovative approaches?
These factors have varied significantly over time.
Evolution of approaches
‘Ideal beauties’ : ancient and medieval world
Portraits in the ancient world were very stylised – like the Photoshop social media images of today. These idealised images often said more about the social norms of beauty in different cultures than the sitter themselves – the sitter as they wish to be remembered.
Prehistoric cave paintings, pottery and statuettes depicted people in abstracted form. Some of these may have represented particular people eg chiefs, or deities where particular characteristics have been exaggerated eg fertility or facial features/hairstyles/clothing showing ethnic identity.
Egypt: portraits of rulers and gods were highly stylised, and most in profile, usually on stone, metal, clay, plaster, or crystal. Egyptian portraiture placed relatively little emphasis on likeness, at least until the period of Akhenaten in the 14th century BC.portrait bust of Queen Nefertiti sculpted in c.1360 bc
China: Portrait painting of notables in China probably goes back to over 1000 BC, though none survive from that age. Existing Chinese portraits go back to about 1000 AD
Ancient Greek and Roman portraiture was often very idealised. But some sculpted heads of rulers and famous personalities like Socrates (see discussion on Gumberg library) were depicted with relatively little flattery.
Middle Ages Most early medieval portraits were commissioned by , initially mostly of popes in Roman mosaics, and illuminated manuscripts.
Move to ‘Realism’: Renaissance to 18th Century
Economic and social changes in the role of the artist, and technological innovations eg use of oil paints that enabled finer brush strokes started a move towards more ‘realistic’ figurative depictions.
In Italy the Florentine and Milanese nobility wanted more recognisable representations of themselves. This stimulated experimentation and innovation particularly in creating convincing full and three-quarter views. Some drawings that were used as studies for religious art by artists like Leonardo da Vinci started to depict grotesque faces. However patrons were still concerned to project a certain image of themselves in their portraits – men with power or women portraits continued to depict an ideal of female beauty in both religious art and portraits like the Mona Lisa. It was at this time also that artists like Leonardo and Pisanello started to add allegorical ‘contextual’ symbols to their secular portraits as in Lady with an ermine – the ermine is said to represent purity and moderation.
It was only however in Northern Europe that a real move to ‘warts and all’ depictions of real life occurred. Portrait paintings by Durer, Jan van Eyck and Holbein continued to be largely idealised – as for example Durer’s self-portraits. Holbein’s portraits of Henry VIII are commissioned to create an image of supreme power, enhanced by costume and background trappings.
But other artists like Bosch, Lucas van Leyden and Quinten Massys and later masters such as Pieter Aertsen en Pieter Bruegel started to produce ‘politically incorrect’ paintings and prints of people and everyday life.
In the 16th Century artists increasingly experimented with printmaking techniques to produce figurative portraits as for example:
Rembrandt van Rijn who painted powerful portraits of himself ‘warts and all’ as he grew older. In addition to paintings he also made etchings.
18th and 19th Centuries: caricature and inner turmoil
This emphasis on idealism changed during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The economic and social upheavals of the eighteenth century in countries like Britain and France led to the rise of political satire and caricature in which an irreverant approach to portraits of the rich and famous spread not only through painting but also prints.
While some Impressionists in France continued an idealised focus on fleeting impressions and light, other painters were experimenting with semi-abstraction and colour to portray inner lives.
Self-portraits began to be autobiographical, done at intervals tracking the evolution of an artist’s life and art. Gauguin used colour and semi-caricature to create a self-image. Courbet and Van Gogh painted numerous self-portraits with graphic portrayal of their internal mental turmoil.
In the 20th century many artists took the focus on abstraction and internal mental states even further, including:
Egon Schiele’s very explicit portrayal of sexual angst in his distinctive ‘blind contour style’
Fauvists and expressionists whose woodcut portraits and paintings used exaggerated forms of distortion and use of colour to express emotion and tried to capture ‘inner essence’ and/or the feelings of the artist towards the subject.
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) was eminent among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters and is widely credited for playing a pivotal role in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting.
Through her invention of the soak-stain technique, she expanded the possibilities of abstract painting, while at times referencing figuration and landscape in unique ways. Her 1952 Mountains and Sea, was a seminal, breakthrough painting of American abstraction. Pioneering the “stain” painting technique, she poured thinned paint directly onto raw, unprimed canvas laid on the studio floor, working from all sides to create floating fields of translucent color. Mountains and Sea was immediately influential for the artists who formed the Color Field school of painting, notable among them Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland.
In addition to unique paintings on canvas and paper, she worked in a wide range of media, including ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and especially printmaking. As a significant voice in the mid-century “print renaissance” among American abstract painters, she is particularly renowned for her woodcuts.
John Virtue is an English artist who specialises in monochrome landscapes. Virtue uses only black and white on his work as he sees colour as “unnecessary distraction”.He uses shellacblack ink and white paint.
He is well known for his “London Paintings” which were displayed in The National Gallery and focused on the London skyline, using easily distinguishable landmarks from the capital such as the Gherkin, the NatWest Tower and St. Paul’s Cathedral, to familiarise his audience with the otherwise hazy, smoggy and ambiguous drawings.
Fauvism is the name applied to the work produced from around 1905 to 1910 by a group of French artists led by Henri Matisse and André Derain, but including Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, Georges Rouault, and Maurice de Vlaminck ). It was inspired by post-impressionism of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Paul Cézanne. The name les fauves (‘the wild beasts’) was coined by the critic Louis Vauxcelles when he saw the work of Henri Matisse and André Derain in an exhibition, the salon d’automne in Paris, in 1905.
Fauvism was characterised by:
use of strong saturated colours as independent elements that projected a mood and established a structure for a painting without having to be true to the natural world. They were interested in scientific colour theories and often juxtaposed complementary colours to increase vibrancy.
concern with strong and unified compositional balance of colour and shape elements to give an immediate strong and unified visual impression
fierce dynamic brushwork juxtaposed with areas of flat colour
all elements aimed to promote the artist’s individual expression, their direct experience of their subjects, emotional response to nature, and intuition were all more important than academic theory or elevated subject matter.
It was an important precursor to Expressionism, Cubism and future modes of abstraction.
Alexej Georgewitsch von Jawlensky (Russian: Алексей Георгиевич Явленский) (13 March 1864 – 15 March 1941) was a Russian expressionist painter active in Germany. He was a key member of the New Munich Artist’s Association (Neue Künstlervereinigung München), Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group and later the Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four).