Chantal Joffe brings a combination of insight and integrity, as well as psychological and emotional force, to the genre of figurative art. Hers is a deceptively casual brushstroke. Whether in images a few inches square or ten feet high, fluidity combined with a pragmatic approach to representation seduces and disarms. Almost always depicting women or girls, sometimes in groups but recently in iconic portraits, Joffe’s paintings only waveringly adhere to their source – be it a photograph, magazine page or even a reflection in the mirror – instead reminding us that distortions of scale and form can often make a subject seem more real.
Joffe’s paintings always alert us to how appearances are carefully constructed and codified, whether in a fashion magazine or the family album, and to the choreography of display. There’s witty neutrality in a career-spanning line-up that has given equal billing to catwalk models, porn actresses, mothers and children, loved ones and literary heroines. Joffe questions assumptions about what makes a noble subject for art and challenges what our expectations of a feminist art might be. Appropriation of existing imagery has been a cornerstone, particularly in the works for which she first became known. Joffe ennobles the people she paints by rehabilitating the photographic image but, crucially, recognises that it is paint itself – its spatio-temporal complexities rather than attendant theories or sociopolitical ideas surrounding subject matter – that keeps us engaged.
For Joffe, notions of sensuality and self-disclosure are parcelled up in works of mobile immediacy. Tensions between the scale of the work and the apparent intimacy of the scene depicted heighten already complex narratives about connection, perception and representation that, implicit in the relationship between artist and subject, are extended to the viewer as a series of propositions and provocations. Often laying bare the physical effort of their making and suffused with a palpable empathetic warmth, Joffe’s paintings are nonetheless deeply questioning images about ever-shifting human connections and the endless intricacies of looking.
Born in Vermont in 1969, Chantal Joffe lives and works in London. She holds an MA from the Royal College of Art and was awarded the Royal Academy Wollaston Prize in 2006. Her recent solo exhibition titled Chantal Joffe: For Esme – With Love and Squalor at Arnolfini, Bristol, UK (2020) captured the changing faces of Joffe and her daughter Esme, moving between mother and daughter, love and squalor, and the act of care and being cared for.
Joffe has exhibited nationally and internationally with venues including The Foundling Museum, London, UK (2020); Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland (2019); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2018); The Lowry, Salford (2018); Royal Academy of Arts, London (2018, 2017); National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavík (2016); National Portrait Gallery, London (2015); Jewish Museum, New York (2015); Jerwood Gallery, Hastings (2015); Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, Italy (2014 – 2015); Saatchi Gallery, London (2013 – 2014); MODEM, Hungary (2012); Turner Contemporary, Margate (2011); Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York (2009); MIMA Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (2007); Galleri KB, Oslo (2005) and Bloomberg Space, London (2004).
Joffe has created a major new public work for the Elizabeth line station at Whitechapel. Titled A Sunday Afternoon in Whitechapel, the work will be on view when the Crossrail station opens in 2021. Joffe is represented by Victoria Miro, London.
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