My Home: Maggi hambling, artist

The artist Maggi Hambling's home reflects her passion for lush, tropical plants and her gigantic collection of elephants
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The Independent Online

The painter, sculptor and printmaker Maggi Hambling lives and works in South London

In 1969, I guess I must have been one of the first squatters in London; the term hadn't really been invented back then. I was a student at the Slade School of Fine Art and I was living in the basement of this very grand house in Gloucester Place. It was actually my friend's pottery studio, but I thought it seemed like a golden opportunity to live in a beautiful building in a great location - it was minutes from Baker Street.

I managed to stay there unnoticed for the first term.

Then one day the architects who had a practice upstairs left me a very polite note saying, "We are moving out, so perhaps you should do the same." It was very English of them.

My next home was a very dark flat in Battersea. When my father came to visit me, he said I was living like a mole in a hole, and he was right. My salvation came when I inherited some money from my friend, the painter Cedric Morris, in 1983.

I bought this place and when I moved in, it was like moving into the light, it was wonderful. I love living here and I have a real routine. Every morning I still drive to Battersea Park, and wander along next to the Thames and look at the water going out to sea. I find water very inspirational.

Creating the home I have now has been a very gradual process. I managed to acquire some more space: the house and garage next door went on sale and I immediately bought them. Then, the next big turning point was in 1987 when I had a show at the Serpentine - the money from that enabled me to get the rest of the house done.

My living space is downstairs, and my bedroom and kitchen overlook the garden, which I love. I'm very keen on deep green, almost black plants, as well as grasses and bamboo, and so I've tried to create a space that is very lush and tropical. My studio is upstairs. It is huge and has great light and lots of room to paint in.

One of the first things I did was to paint all the radiators and windows frames silver. It's that whole Sixties thing about being true to materials: radiators are made of metal and so they should be silver.

At the time, I was very influenced by Andy Warhol and the Factory movement. I also rubbed liming wax into the wooden walls. Liming wax is an oil which is used to treat the wood in picture frames, so I guess the idea was to frame each room and its furniture.

I have wooden floorboards throughout, which I painted black and have covered in animal skins and rugs. I only have one of my own paintings up - it is a painting of [a] Jester that I did when I was 14. I don't understand how some artists can have their work all around them. I'm surrounded by the bloody stuff all day - and the last thing I want to do is come downstairs from my studio and spend my evenings looking at it.

Instead, I have lots of beautiful paintings by the likes of Cedric Morris, Roger Hilton and Arthur Lett-Haines, who was really my mentor. His water-colour of Brighton station in the Thirties is amazing: each person in it is a portrait of someone real.

I have a black chair in my bedroom that used to belong to Cedric. When he was alive I tried to paint his portrait, but it didn't work out. Then a year after his death in 1982, very early one morning, I saw his ghost sitting in the chair laughing. It was soon after that that I finally painted his portrait.

I'm very interested in death, and motivated by it. Death is the reason I am always struggling to create a better painting. A great work of art creates a juxtaposition: it makes you feel alive, but simultaneously very aware of death. I get that feeling when I look at work by all the great painters - Rothko, Titian, Van Gogh....

My house is filled with things I love, from a wooden monkey from a trip to Mexico to an ancient Han dynasty figure to a tiny miniature piano that I found at an antiques fair; they're all part of life's rich pageant.

My real weakness, though, is elephants. I have been collecting them for years.

I love their size and power and gentleness. My obsession started at the age of eight when I was taken to Harrods pets department. My parents had told me that you could get anything you wanted from there. I asked the assistant if I could see a baby elephant, only to be told rather firmly that it was out of the question.

Since then I have amassed hundreds of elephants: I've now had to ask people to stop giving them to me, otherwise I wouldn't have inch of space left on any surface.

My most amazing item is an elephant chair, which is made from wood - although it does look very lifelike.

People always seem to think I shot it and dragged it back from Africa. It's actually from Peter Jones.

Unfortunately, though, my dog has eaten one of the tusks. I could never throw it out, though. Every day I wake up and resolve to try to be a minimalist. But realistically, it's never going to happen. I'm one of life's true hoarders.

Maggi Hambling: 'Portraits of People and the Sea' runs from 25 January to 25 February at Marlborough Fine Art, 6 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BY

'Maggi Hambling: The Works and Conversations with Andrew Lambirth', is published today by Unicorn Press

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