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Maggi Hambling

The artist who likes to shock

Eamonn McCabe/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Halfway through my lunch with British artist Maggi Hambling, her front teeth fall out, says Tim Adams in The Observer. The 75-year-old isn’t bothered. She laughs, slurps her wine, reaches for her cigarettes and pops the teeth in her pocket. “I blame my mother,” says Hambling. “The dentist in Hadleigh, where we lived, used to fancy her, so she was always too embarrassed to take us.” Anyway, “at least you have your opening line: ‘We enjoyed a very pleasant luncheon during which half of my guest’s f***ing teeth fell out…’”

Hambling has always liked shocking people. She moved to London in the 1960s with a leather trench coat, freshly dyed crimson hair and her virginity still intact. “It was terribly embarrassing to be a virgin at art school.” She drew up a list of things to try: older man, young man, woman. “At the end of the first year I’d gone through my list and found I liked the woman best. So that was that.” She’s been with her partner, Tory, for nearly 40 years. Recently they were joined by Peggy, a one-eyed rescue pug.

Age hasn’t mellowed her. Last year her sculpture of Mary Wollstonecraft in north London caused mayhem. Feminists were enraged that Wollstonecraft was naked. Channel 4 reported a “furore” in Stoke Newington. For Hambling, it was all terribly funny. There are always these “goody goody people” telling you you’ve done the wrong thing. “Laughing is a very serious business,” she says, patting the teeth in her pocket.