The Contemporary Art Society has helped acquire a portrait by Chantal Joffe for the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, alongside the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the museum. Joffe creates disarmingly raw portraits, almost always depicting women and girls. Appropriation of existing imagery is key to her work where she transforms candid photographic images into complex and engaging paintings. Her most recent work explores issues of female identity. Her paintings are alluring and revealing, laying bare distortions, quirks and imperfections with her loose, fluid brushstrokes. Her gestural style presents her subjects in positions that vary from relaxed to awkward; their comfort with the artist seemingly met by the discomfort of being observed and recorded.
Joffe’s subjects are often her family and friends, the intimacy of these relationships is present alongside the raw honesty of her work. This is particularly visible in her depictions of girlhood, a recurring motif in her work, and she has painted her own daughter throughout her life. The large-scale portrait Bella in a Vest depicts a friend’s daughter sitting on a chair against a neutral backdrop. It combines the genres of childhood portrait and casual family snapshot. The palette used and the stylised blue stripes pay homage to the artist Alice Neel. Bella sits with her hands clasped in her lap, her cool gaze avoids meeting the viewer directly and appears both self-possessed and insecure. The juxtaposition of these attitudes captures the contradictions of adolescence and girlhood. Joffe often discusses her paintings in terms of transformation, exploring aging and growing. In her work, she chronicles both the physicality and psychology of these changes.
Chantal Joffe is an artist whose practice bears a relationship with the existing works within Sunderland Museum’s collection particularly with artists disporting painterly images for emotional effect such as L.S Lowry and artists looking at transitions and identity such as Jeffrey Sarmiento or Bruce McCann. The addition of this work to Sunderland Museum’s collection expands the representation of female artists.
Chantal Joffe (b.1969, Saint Albans City, Vermont) lives and works in London. Recent solo shows include Whitechapel Gallery, London (2018); Royal Academy of Arts, London (2018, 2017); National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavík (2016). Group shows include The Foundling Museum, London (2020); Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; The Drawing Room, London (both 2019).