Victoria Miro is delighted to present a series of large-scale pastel self-portraits by Chantal Joffe.
Chantal Joffe brings a combination of insight and integrity, as well as psychological and emotional force, to the genre of figurative art. Defined by its clarity, honesty and empathetic warmth her work is attuned to our awareness as both observers and observed beings, apparently simple yet always questioning, complex and emotionally rich. This exhibition premieres a number of large-scale pastel self-portraits. Self-portraiture is one of the cornerstones of Joffe's art. It is one that, aside from issues of practicality, she considers 'a way of thinking about time passing'—in regard to herself and to her relationship with her heroes and forebears, not least Paula Modersohn-Becker who painted what is likely the first ever half-length naked self-portrait by a female artist.
These works, charting the topography of the artist's body as she stands, bends, places her hands on the small of her back, shifts her weight on to one foot then the other, are especially searching. Often she seems to be looking down—studying her own form from different angles—just as the works themselves, not confined by the paper's edge, range speculatively across multiple sheets. They are among the largest works on paper Joffe has made. Yet, whether intimate or monumental—and Joffe's work is capable of being both at the same time—her self-portraits are always in pursuit of the truthfulness that she seeks in all her subjects. Here she applies it to herself, the advantage being, as she says, that 'there is no obligation to the sitter.'
While drawing has always been integral to Joffe's practice, the medium of pastel offers a number of unique challenges and opportunities as she brings images robustly and truthfully to life. The artist has discussed the engrossing and highly physical experience of the work's making, with pastel accumulating with a luminous purity across multiple sheets of paper laid out on her studio table or floor, as being markedly different from the act of painting and the ways in which oil behaves on canvas or board. 'You can get a kind of brutality with pastel that you can't with paint,' she explains. 'With paint there's always an extension of your arm and brush. Whereas pastel is so primitive. You can't draw hard enough.'
In these works, and a contemporaneous series of smaller pastels titled (After Degas), Joffe's poses refer to those depicted by Edgar Degas in his famed drawings of nude bathers. Writing in the catalogue of the exhibition Chantal Joffe: For Esme – with Love and Squalor, recently on view at Arnolfini, Bristol, Dorothy Price comments that Joffe's pastels 'reimagine the contorted poses of Degas' nude bathers: leaning forward to pull up stockings, scratching her back, standing one moment, crouching the next, seen from behind awkwardly cupping her nakedness, or more boldly and self-absorbedly looking up, past the viewer, hands on hips. Her ability to both admire Degas' draughtsmanship and empathise with the women whom he paints is subtly but insistently invoked... Whilst Degas' pastels have been the subject of much critical and art historical controversy, not least accusations of misogyny levelled at the artist for the strenuous poses he expected naked models to hold intermittently for hours at a time in an unheated studio, Joffe's works completely disrupt this visual paradigm. As both artist and model she holds all the cards and remains unflinching in her self-directed gaze.
Press release courtesy Victoria Miro.