- Maggi Hambling born 1945
- Oil paint on canvas
- Support: 2135 × 1827 mm
- Presented by the artist in honour of Maria Balshaw 2018
Entitled 2016, the year it was made, this painting depicts a golden boat sinking below the surface of the ocean. The composition’s central subject is a chaotic tumble of black, white, gold and flesh-toned colours, suggesting the boat’s inhabitants are spilling over its edges into the water. To create the effect of submersion, the artist appears to have loaded up a palette knife with daubs of thick white hues and scraped it along textured layers of already-dried oil paint. The remainder of the canvas is filled with choppy waves that extend outwards into a seascape viewed from above. This bird’s eye perspective mimics the framing of aerial view photography as captured from a hovering press helicopter.
Hambling did not paint 2016 directly from a photographic source, but has described the work as an amalgamation of various images circulating in the media at the time of asylum seekers drowning at sea. She has explained, ‘I kept seeing pictures, on television and elsewhere, of these people, and hearing on the news that a whole boat had gone down … Boats were being abandoned by the traffickers and left to drift and disappear.’ (Hambling quoted in Cahill 2017, p.1). Hambling made the painting slowly throughout 2016, a year in which the media’s portrayal of the European migrant crisis was a key factor in world events such as Brexit in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. The title therefore relates both to the act of making and the political conditions which surrounded it.
Hambling began painting large scale seascapes in 2002 after encountering a storm rampaging on the Suffolk coast. She said: ‘I try to paint as if I'm in the sea or very close to it, rather than observing from a distance. At any moment it could engulf me. The sea, after all, is terrifying’ (Hambling 2006, p.231). 2016 marks a new direction in Hambling's depiction of the ocean, from an awe-inspired expression of the dramatic capabilities of the natural world to a metaphor of political uncertainty. It was first exhibited in the solo show Maggi Hambling: Edge which, in addition to a small number of intimate portraits, featured paintings that responded to other global issues such as the war in Syria and melting icecaps.
Andrew Lambirth, interview with Maggi Hambling, in Maggi Hambling: The Works, London 2006.
James Cahill, Maggi Hambling: Edge, exhibition catalogue, Marlborough Fine Art, London 2017.
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