George Always, Maggi Hambling's tribute to her friend the late George Melly will be on public display in London for the first time in June. The National Portrait Gallery
will show the last twelve ink drawings the jazz singer posed for alongside oil paintings made from life, memory and imagination.
These portraits reveal Hambling's unique ability to work from life and after death. The artist writes: 'After first my father and then Henrietta Moraes died, paintings began - and so with George Melly. I loved and had worked from life with all three and so the fact of death did not kill my desire to paint them. One by one they inhabited me'.
Two of the 'ghost' portraits, George Always I and George Always II will be on display loaned from the Ivy Restaurant, London. The portraits are concerned with the simultaneous absence and presence of the subject.
Also on show will be the portrait of Melly commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in 1998 showing him as himself and in two other 'incarnations', as his heroine, the jazz singer Bessie Smith and as Honorary Fellow of John Moores University, Liverpool.
Hambling says: 'George often makes an appearance in my dreams. I still hear him laugh, tell jokes and sing. From wherever he may be'.
Born in Liverpool in 1926 George Melly enjoyed a career as a jazz singer, art historian and raconteur. In 1944 he enlisted in the Royal Navy before moving to London to work at the London Gallery run by ELT Mesens. As a singer he performed with both Mick Mulligan's Magnolia Jazz Band and John Chilton's Feetwarmers. From 1965-1973 Melly was Observer critic for pop music, film and TV. He lectured widely on art especially Surrealism and Outsider art and published numerous books, both autobiographical and about art. His final performance was at the 100 Club less than a month before his death on 10 July 2007.
Born in Suffolk in 1945 Maggi Hambling studied at the East Anglian School of Painting with Lett Haines and Cedric Morris from 1960 and at Ipswich, Camberwell, and the Slade School of Art. A figurative painter, sculptor and printmaker, Hambling was first Artist in Residence at the National Gallery (1980-1). She won the Jerwood Prize for Painting, jointly with Patrick Caulfield, in 1995 and her work is held in collections at the British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, and Tate among other public collections in the UK and abroad. Her sculpture 'Scallop' on Aldeburgh beach in Suffolk was unveiled in 2003 and awarded the first Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture in 2005.