Chantal Joffe is known best for her paintings of other women, particularly those close to her: her niece Moll is a regular muse, while her daughter Esme, mother and sisters have also been subjects of the artist’s brushstrokes. As Joffe told Elephant in 2011, “I have always been interested in looking at other people in a real teenage girl way,” adding that she prefers to paint women, “because I empathize with them, I can think of how they feel.” This deep study of her subjects, of their psychological, emotional and physical states, is what makes Joffe’s paintings so compelling and places her in a trajectory of human portraitists from Alice Neel and Paula Modershohn-Becker to Lucien Freud, Marlene Dumas and Diane Arbus, all significant influences on Joffe’s practice.
While most of Joffe’s exhibitions, and the subsequent discussion of her works, has centred around her portraits of other women, the artist has also been quietly creating probing self-portraits. At her current solo exhibition in Milan, for example, three self-portraits, showing the artist in various states of dress, are tucked among her cast of familiar characters. Meanwhile, hanging on the wall in a private backroom at Victoria Miro’s booth at Artissima art fair, was a rare nude self-portrait in pastel, on yellow, from two years ago. Smaller in scale, there’s a natural solicitous—perhaps, self-conscious—intimacy about this self-portrait, the inward-looking gaze quite different to the penetrating, startling stare of most of Joffe’s muses. In terms of style it shares the freedom of Joffe’s brushstrokes, though there is also a flatness and restraint at play that is quite strikingly different to the thick, splodgy, wonkiness of Joffe’s oil paintings. When looking at herself, what does the artist see? A woman, a naked body, in its late forties, the body of a mother, a daughter, an artist, a lover? The painting’s answers are of course enigmatic, but fascinating to explore.
Until 25 November at Monica Cardenas Gallery, Milan