17 May - 14 July 2001
Chantal Joffe is well known for her fluidly painted portraits in which she captures both the weakness and vitality of human existence. Her subjects are almost always female: children, girls, and women captured in various moments of family, working, and intimate life. She portrays her models in a way that is halfway between a snapshot and a caricature, and in doing so she violates the taboo that obliges artists not to enjoy the pleasures of painting. These studies of the human condition do not make judgements but they also refuse to be neutral, and this is due above all to their audacious transgression of formal order. The psychological intensity of Joffe's subjects makes our own opinions ambiguous, disturbing yet pleasing us at the same time.
In her most recent work the style and size of the pictures have grown within a highly ordered structure. Joffe has already been widely admired for her small figure studies, and to these she has now added large-scale paintings in which the figures are depicted in groups. It is an important new aspect of her work: this is not simply a question of larger dimensions but also of a new psychological relationship between the characters and the viewer. The figures are placed within a wide though ambiguously deep landscape that, in certain cases, alludes to paintings of the fifteenth century even while remaining completely contemporary in spirit and formal daring. The origins of the subjects are varied: at times they are personal, taken from a family album, at other times they seem to be taken from clothing catalogues, fashion magazines, and pornographic or advertising material. The women portrayed, whether young or old, display a wide range of feelings and emotions, from apprehension and uncertainty to simulation, from indifference to trust and to open and at times even comic sexuality. The idea that we are innocent until proved guilty is shifted by Joffe to the principle of being imperfect but full of life rather than being sad, cold or emotionally feeble.
Born in St. Albans in 1969, though now living in London, Chantal Joffe has already exhibited in important galleries and public spaces in Europe and America, including the Victoria Miro Gallery, London, the Akinci Gallery, Amsterdam, and Feigen Contemporary, New York, in 1999. She has also taken part in many group shows, including Le pratiche della percezione, curated by Vittoria Coen at the Galleria Civica in Trent, in the summer of 2000.