Friday, 06 March 2015

Chantal Joffe: Beside The Seaside

Written by Sam Taylor
Sam-taylor-portrait-176On a freezing-cold day on an English beach it’s unusual to be confronted by the figure of a fully naked, middle-aged man. Naked Dan (as he’s called) looks a little lost among all the clothed females that make up the rest of this arresting show. True, Joffe did gift him some nice flowery fabric to lie on and much of his bulk is supported by the pillows on her studio sofa, but somehow, nice as I am sure he is, the androgynous, wafty, ethereal portraits of her female friends and family are much easier on the eye.

The show continues the Jerwood’s commitment to only showing artists with a connection to area. In Joffe’s case, she lived here as a teenager and maintains links through her sisters and mother. It’s a coup for director Liz Gilmore, who cleverly invited the 80-year-old artist Rose Wylie to co-curate the show – some of Wylie’s own pieces hang alongside and provide a spirited balance.

The larger pieces demand attention and deserve it, but lack the intensity of the smaller canvasses, with the top prizes going to those with a dog thrown in. Pinky (2014), for instance, dispenses with the face of the sitter completely – it’s actually her mother under the vast blue hat – with the result that the viewer is drawn to the little dog on a lead. And lovely he is, too. In real life, Chantal Joffe has something of a Charlotte Rampling look about her, a look that also figures in her best paintings – of her daughter Esme and her cousins. The portrait Esme In A Checked Skirt (2014) is a masterclass in how to paint a nonchalant teenager. Vita By The Sea (2014) achieves the same effect, albeit with a more carved face.

Poppy, Esme, Oleanna, Gracie And Kate (2014) is just that: a gaggle of girls hanging out, their lives ahead of them, their youthful gaits all-powerful, but with no hint of the artist trading on their naivety. I have to confess that I entered this show not expecting to fully embrace it. There is no doubt Joffe has long been a big hitter, but occasionally she can also seem contrived. One critic suggested that because she paints fast (often finishing a canvas in a day) she can appear a little slapdash. But here, every brushstroke has a purpose. And counts.

Until 12 April at Jerwood Gallery, Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings: 01424-728377,

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