Art History

Chantal Joffe and her amazing paintings

Chantal Joffe and her amazing paintings

Chantal Joffe and her amazing paintings

The extraordinary paintings

Chantal Joffe’s (b1969) paintings in Story are exceptional. In a series of new works, her mother Daryl’s at different times of her life and in her relationship with Daryll’s children, including Joffe, is such sensitivity. It’s delicate, loose lines and brushwork. These portraits are psychological, and the space in the gallery symbolizes the emotional pull of these relationships.

to be a small child

Leaning back into the past, Joffe goes to the recollections of her mother’s youth and says of those paintings, “It feels like the time is in the paintings and when she works it feels like some of this memory.” Mother relations are often recalled by Olivia Laing in the artist’s book that accompanies this exhibition, and that is recognized in his essay Looking for Mother. Laing observes “The sensory, textual and emotional landscapes of childhood, while childhood memories remain pretty intact, are extremely fleeting and recurrent in flickering.” Joffe’s paintings show how he feels to be a child.

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Nagging, whining and competing

In Kool-Aid (2020) and Halloween (2020) and other photos, Joffe and her siblings are portrayed without their mother. I can remember, or maybe envision a bit of what it felt like when I was a child with other children in photographs such as these. The hand of an elderly child on his face or shoulders, the sensation of grass on his thighs, the shared thrill of Halloween clothing. Painting scenarios inspired by ancient family pictures have raised numerous Joffe memories.

Chantal Joffe and her amazing paintings

No straightforward chronology in the exhibition

The historical order of these paintings was not assembled by Joffe, therefore the chronology is not plain which produces intriguing visuals and correlations. Thus, the plot is unpredictable when the viewer is at unforeseen moments taken back and forth through time. I guess memories come back to us often without any obligation to knock us out, and Joffe is no different. As she has noted, it is difficult even for an adult to recognize his or her mother as an independent person and actually see her well beyond his or her duty as mother.

Chantal Joffe and her amazing paintings

Joffe`s paintings of her mother

Painting her mother over time means Joffe’s efforts to see her more clearly: “Nobody in her 1970s is just that—they’re not just older people who are lonely, alone or have health problems … everyone is the full life they’ve been before.” It’s not only Daryll who is the elderly woman with a bandaged eye who is recovering from a cataract in Cataract (2020) or the epidemic in My Mother at her doorstep alone and defenseless during Daryll (2020) or My Mother in a Blue Showl at her door (2020). He’s also Daryll, Daryll, the lovely red-haired young woman, Daryll, Daryll, the active, confident parent.

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The mother recedes inch by inch

Born and raised in South Africa and lived in America, Yugoslavia and England subsequently, Daryll has her own past. She has been detained and employed as a child-care officer and a maid for demonstrating against apartheid. During the family, she obtained an MA in linguistics. Nevertheless, as Laing puts it: “Mother shrinks inch by inch, gets less and harder, emerges as someone with a right to needs and sorrows.” This is the moment when the caregiver’s mother is looked after, relationships are flipped on her head, and the vulnerable become the protectors. For me, the most poignant in this exhibit are the paintings by Daryll, as it now looks.

A sensory and emotional landscape

I see anguish and power, fragility and bravery in the older Daryll who, even if portrayed alone, carries with her and her children her history. The Daryll of My Mother is the same gorgeous, stubborn Daryll of Train to Vermont in Blue Shawl, at its doorway. She might have shrunk, but surely she didn’t miss. This is not at issue and if this exhibition does anything, it certainly shows its ongoing importance, whatever of age, in the lives of its children. In these paintings, Joffe is generous in what she shares. Yes, they’re personal and close-up. They create a sensory and emotional picture.

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