Chantal Joffe’s “Night Self-Portraits” are as much about paint as they are about the artist’s bold and unflinching self-portrayals and psychological openness intensified by their lush textures and colors.
Self-portraits have always been a staple of Joffe’s production. Now in her late 40s, she continues to breathe new energy into the genre. The 14 paintings here probed identity and self-representation as well as motherhood and femininity. Painted at night with spare backdrops, these works called attention to the light, the subjects’ gaze, and the materiality of the paint, defining and equating the surfaces of Joffe’s often-nude body with the neutral grounds of the paintings.
Naked Self-Portrait with Esme in a Pink Nightshirt (2014), an 8-foot-high portrait of mother and daughter, is installed to breathtaking effect at the gallery entrance. Joffe’s untanned, naked breasts and torso and her daughter’s pink dress stand out as ethereal passages of paint independent of the bodies they define; they are co-equal to the thickly painted areas that describe the air and space between the figures.
Three variations of the artist in a red dress revealed the powerful, emotional reverberations resulting from modifications in scale, posture, light, and shadow. As vulnerable clothed as not, these extremely personal self-portraits touch viewers on a visceral level.
A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 80.