Chantal Joffe: Story
4 June–31 July 2021
16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW
‘When they work it feels like some of that memory and time got caught in the paint’ — Chantal Joffe
Victoria Miro is delighted to present new works by Chantal Joffe. Accompanied by an artist’s book with a new text by Olivia Laing, Story features a number of paintings of the artist’s mother and considers issues of aging, motherhood and visibility, focusing particularly on the complex relationship between mother and child over time.
The exhibition is the third in a trilogy that began with a year of self-portraits, shown at Victoria Miro in 2019, followed by For Esme – with Love and Squalor, which captured the changing faces across the years of Joffe and her daughter, Esme, on view at Arnolfini, Bristol, in 2020.
‘What’s remarkable about Joffe’s picture is that she’s managed to plug into a universal current, to capture and convey not just her own childhood, but mine and perhaps yours too.’— Olivia Laing
Joffe’s paintings of the artist’s mother, Daryll, are part of an ongoing series that the artist began some three decades ago. These new works, some painted from family photographs, others from life, range back and forth in time. There are depictions of Joffe and her siblings with their mother as children – on a sofa, on a train, on holiday, as newborns and, in the case of Train to Vermont, which shows Daryll pregnant with Chantal, as not-yet-born. As Joffe explains, ‘I suddenly thought, but nobody in their seventies is just that – they’re not just an older person who’s lonely, or isolated, or has health issues… Everybody is the whole life that went before that. So, I started looking at all our family photos and thinking about my mum and all the things she’d done in her life and how she seemed to me when I was a child…’
The Story of the exhibition title refers to a painting depicting the artist and her two older sisters as children in the early 1970s, snuggled up on a sofa with their mother as they share a bedtime story. In the accompanying publication, Olivia Laing writes, ‘What’s remarkable about Joffe’s picture is that she’s managed to plug into a universal current, to capture and convey not just her own childhood, but mine and perhaps yours too.’
‘It’s not just that everyone gets older, but rather that time occasions a shift in perspective and visibility too.’— Olivia Laing
Other paintings show Daryll now, alone – standing in her doorway, reclining on sofa after a cataract operation – or accompanied by Joffe, the shifts in dynamic as much emotional and psychological as they are physical but no less palpable. As Olivia Laing writes, ‘Over the years, a kind of hardening takes place, a process of separation and individuation on both sides. It’s not just that everyone gets older, but rather that time occasions a shift in perspective and visibility too. The mother recedes inch by inch, becoming smaller and harder, emerging as a person with needs and sadnesses in her own right…’
‘I started looking at all our family photos and thinking about my mum and all the things she’d done in her life and how she seemed to me when I was a child.’— Chantal Joffe
Joffe and her sisters, Emily and Natasha, feature in paintings such as Halloween which, drawn from family photographs, convey the complexity of time and memory – the process of the adult looking back entwined with recollections of feelings held as a child at the time. About Halloween, the artist says, ‘I kept thinking how these costumes had all been made for us by my mum and no doubt picked out of a pattern in the sewing shop where we would go. We’d clamour around her: I want to be a bunny, I want to be a dog. My long-suffering mum would take us home, make the costume. She would have had to listen to us all nagging and whining and competing for our costume to be the one that got made. All that came back to me as I tried to paint that. And all the competition between us three sisters.’
Fourth Baby is Joffe’s brother, Jasper, whose arrival the artist recalls: ‘I remember him arriving and our excitement about him. And him coming home from the hospital and our disappointment because he was bright red and shouting. We’d had an idea of what a baby would be. And our mum was quite busy taking care of this new screaming red thing. We weren’t so thrilled.’
Beach Hut and self portrait dressed
‘I thought, I’ll try and paint her throughout her life and somehow try and see her through a different lens. Or just try and see her at all, which is almost impossible even at the best of times, to try see past all the ideas you have of somebody that have layered up over time.’— Chantal Joffe
The Heath and My Mother with Fern
spot and fern, conversation
‘Nobody in their seventies is just that – they’re not just an older person who’s lonely, or isolated, or has health issues… Everybody is the whole life that went before that.’— Chantal Joffe
striped shirt II
‘It’s so difficult for even a grown child to see their mother as an independent person, to look at them without being blinded by the relational ties of need and duty.’— Olivia Laing
With mother, clothed and naked
Mum in Fleece, Cataract, Doorway
Painted just before and during the pandemic, the recent paintings on view include Cataract, a painting of Daryll with a bandaged eye following a cataract operation. The motif of the doorway features in paintings large and small. As Joffe says, ‘The paintings of her recently, in the pandemic, are her coming to not even let me in, but to open the door so we can stand in her doorway and talk. It’s such a feature of this time, seeing people against their hallways, peering out.’
First baby, red haired mother
‘I was thinking about how you worship your mum when you’re that age, how everything about them is so beautiful. They’re gigantic and they’re powerful and everything they say, you just love it so much…’— Chantal Joffe
‘It’s such a feature of this time, seeing people against their hallways, peering out.’— Chantal Joffe
Chantal Joffe – Story, a new book
‘The mother recedes inch by inch, becoming smaller and harder, emerging as a person with needs and sadnesses in her own right…’— Olivia Laing
Published by Victoria Miro on the occasion of the exhibition, this 80-page artist’s book features Looking for Mother, a new text by writer and critic Olivia Laing, and a selection of works from the past 30 years in addition to the paintings on view.
About the artist
Born in 1969, Chantal Joffe lives and works in London. The acclaimed British painter has exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including Royal Academy of Arts, London; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Jewish Museum, New York; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; and Neuberger Museum of Art, New York. Her work is in numerous institutional and private collections, including the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Detroit Institute of Arts; National Portrait Gallery, London; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Joffe has created a major new public work for the Elizabeth line station at Whitechapel, London, which will be on view when the Crossrail station opens in 2021.
Currently on view (until 8 August 2021), The Artist’s Mother: Lucie and Daryll, featuring Lucian Freud and Chantal Joffe, is a virtual exhibition presented by IMMA, The Irish Museum of Modern Art, in partnership with Victoria Miro and Vortic, the leading virtual and augmented reality platform for the art world, and hosted on Vortic and at imma.ie. Inspired by two of Freud’s most outstanding portraits of his mother, The Painter’s Mother Reading, 1975, and Painter’s Mother Resting I, 1976, the presentation features an exceptional series of paintings and pastels by Joffe of her mother, Daryll, and will be followed by a gallery display of the pastels in the Freud Centre.