Weathering the winds of change
Maggi Hambling stands silently, puffing contemplatively on a cigarette. She is gazing upwards towards the glass ceiling of the atrium inside the Ipswich Art School gallery. The object of her fixed attention is Aldeburgh engineer Dennis Pegg, who is standing at the top of a ladder making the final adjustments to the fixings of Maggi’s Brixton Heron.
The large stainless steel sculpture, which is also a weather vane, is the centrepiece of her contribution to a new exhibition which celebrates the seminal role Ipswich Art School has played not only in the development of East Anglian art but also in contemporary art on a national scale.
The exhibition entitled The Class Of... celebrates the talent of not only students like Maggi but also tutors like Lawrence Self, Tom Phillips, Bernard Reynolds and Colin Moss.
But, as Maggi is quick to point out, this is also an exhibition about the present and the future as well. Two galleries are being turned over to both the Suffolk New College and the UCS to show work by students and the current teaching staff.
“We won’t know what they are going to come up until they arrive here, so it’s very exciting. There’s a sense of continuity. It’s so important that this space isn’t regarded as a museum.”
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With Maggi satisfied that her Brixton Heron has been installed correctly, Mr Pegg is recalled down the step ladder and he packs away his engineering tools as Maggi conducts me round the atrium gallery which welcomes visitors to the venue.
She explains that the heron on display is not the full-sized heron. This is only a working maquette created by the Peggs to ensure that the full-sized version, which currently sits above the centre of Brixton on top of the imposing Prince and Dex building which dominates the whole area, would actually work.
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Although the heron in the exhibition is only a working maquette it is still larger than most weather vanes. She said that the heron provided a firm link between her contemporary work and her past. The image of the heron used as the template for the heron sculpture was taken from a print which Maggi had produced in 1993.
This echoed her famous print of the rhino in Ipswich Museum which she had produced while at Ipswich Art School.
“As we go round the room, we go on a tour of work through the years,” Maggi explained. “We start with prints I made here at the Ipswich Art School, there’s a nude, a print of life at Ipswich station, the rhino, a figure from a still life class, then we move onto the print of the heron before we come to my latest large bronze wave. The largest of my small bronzes,” she laughs.
This is followed by two new sea paintings and two recently completed cormorant paintings. One of her favourite pieces in the exhibition is a bronze of tutor Bernard Reynolds’s head, cocked in that very bird-like way that Maggi remembers looking up at the heron dominating the atrium ceiling.
Maggi’s exhibition acts as the welcoming hall to a vast exhibition which celebrates the creativity which was nurtured and tutored at Ipswich Art School.
The staff weren’t just teachers and lecturers, they were practitioners, and to Maggi that was important.
“My time at Ipswich Art School was crucial,” Maggi added. “The various disciplines of painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking were strongly instilled in me. Each one continues to play its part in my work.”
Maggi was a student at Ipswich Art School from 1962-64.
Ipswich Art School originally opened in January 1859 in Northgate Street, Ipswich. In 1934 construction began on the current building with its distinctive glass-roofed, octagonal gallery. It was conceived as a place to inspire, transform and educate.
Among the artists on display in this current exhibition is Colin Moss who was born in Ipswich in 1914 and in 1947 became a senior lecturer at Ipswich Art School. Although he is now established as a leading East Anglian artist, he was controversial and rather a modern choice when he first started. Tom Phillips’s portrait of his ex-student Brian Eno will be on display along with work by Norwich-born Bernard Reynolds, who moved to Ipswich Art School and from 1948 to 1980 was the lecturer of sculpture.
Contemporary work is also on display at the UCS Waterfront gallery bringing The Class Of... bang up-to-date.
The Class of .... exhibition runs at the Ipswich Art School Gallery from January 29 to June 12. The Waterfront exhibition will be running from January 29 to February 27 and then from March 10 to April 2.