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Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Friday, 24 September 2010 16:41 UK
Maggi Hambling's Mostly Cormorants exhibition
Cormorant Rising From Summer Wave by Maggi Hambling
Detail from Cormorant Rising From Summer Wave - Maggi Hambling

Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling is unveiling her first exhibition of paintings of sea birds.

Mostly Cormorants is at the Peter Pears Gallery in Aldeburgh 25 September-12 October, 2010.

"I love their scudding flight above waves or rivers, the beauty of their action as they dive for and resurface with fish," said Maggi.

Hambling designed the Scallop sculpture at Aldeburgh beach and has produced a series of North Sea wave paintings.

The exhibition of around 40 artworks also includes gannets, seals and herons. But, as it says on the tin, it is mostly cormorants.

"Cormorants always seemed to be there from my first North Sea paintings in 2002," said Maggi.

"I see them very often when I draw the sea in the morning in Suffolk.

Maggi Hambling
Maggi Hambling at the Colin Moss exhibition in Ipswich

"When I'm in London in Battersea Park taking the dogs for a walk first thing in the morning, there they are again.

"Cormorants are pretty much everywhere and I just think they're very, very beautiful.

"The curves of their necks, the particular formation of their wings, I just think they're magical creatures.

"As with the waves, it's trying to get the split second of the movement of these birds leaving or diving into the water."

Earlier in 2010, Maggi's Brixton Heron was unveiled in south London on top of the Prince & Dex Building.

The 3m high stainless steel sculpture was built by Pegg & Son in Aldeburgh - the same firm which made Scallop.

"Herons I have painted throughout my life and it was the most exotic bird I'd ever seen as a child and I couldn't believe it was English because it was so extraordinary," said Maggi.

"There's the combination of great beauty when they're in flight and then they're really comic when they land. And then they sit in rows like judges.

"I get the binoculars out when a barn owl flies past my studio, but I wouldn't say I was a twitcher."

The RSPB estimates there are 9,000 breeding pairs of cormorants in the UK

Suffolk sightings

Cormorants can be seen along the Suffolk coast in flight, sitting on the nuclear power station platforms in the sea at Sizewell and in breeding colonies on the Orwell estuary.

But their move inland has seen them come into conflict with anglers.

"A lot of them are on freshwater in Suffolk and you'll see them, particularly in the winter, around gravel pits," said Ian Barthorpe, RSPB officer, Suffolk Coast.

"They're taking the opportunity to move inland because our seas are being overfished and a lot of our inland waterways are very well stocked for fishing interests.

"Some fishermen have called for a cull on cormorants and we've been very active in saying that's not the way to go.

"There are a lot of non-lethal methods that can be employed - fish barriers in the water, scaring methods etc.

"It's unlikely that cormorants would cause huge economic losses and certainly there are very few proven examples of that."

Maggi Hambling comes down firmly on the birds' side.

"They have extraordinary ability in the way they dive and come to the surface again - so much better than human fishermen," she said.

"Fishermen don't like them, but that's for obvious reasons - they feel inferior!"

While Maggi thinks they're creatures of beauty, many see them as unattractive.

Cormorants are often compared to pterodactyls because of their long necks and the way they sit with their wings held in a diamond-shaped pose.

"A baby cormorant is certainly only something a baby cormorant's mother could like," said Ian.

"But if you look really closely, they are really attractive. You can get some fantastic patterning off the feathers.

"They might look black from a distance, but they've got pale fringing or metallic colouring in some of the feathers.

"It might not be the most attractive bird compared to a kingfisher or an avocet, but it's got a lot of character about it.

"Sinister isn't a word I would use. Characterful, certainly.

"I'm pleased to hear Maggi Hambling is celebrating their beauty."

Mostly Cormorants is at The Peter Pears Gallery, 152, High Street, Aldeburgh, Suffolk and it's open 2-5pm on Saturday 25 September and then daily 10am-5pm until Tuesday, 12 October, 2010.

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