Tuesday, June 18, 2024
HomeArts & CultureChantal Joffe’s Diaries of an Empty-Nester

Chantal Joffe’s Diaries of an Empty-Nester

Chantal Joffe’s latest work reads almost like a graphic novel. Moving through my dear dust In Skarstedt Gallery, her current exhibition of small and large scale paintings, a narrative unfolds that explores motherhood, loss and individual identity. Joffe is best known for her figurative paintings that often depict her and her daughter, Esme, in domestic settings. Mother and daughter also appear here, but this time they are working on a new chapter in their relationship: the inevitability of growing up and leaving home.

The show begins with footage of Esme sitting on a couch wearing striped socks, walking under cherry trees, and cooking in the kitchen. These small portraits offer no insight into the inner life of the subject; It is as if Joffe had only portrayed the image of her daughter. “Es Under the Cherry Tree” (all works 2024) depicts a fleeting moment in which Esme walks beneath the tree, looking at her hands, rendered as a jumble of juicy pink and blue lines. Located at the bottom right of the canvas, with her body leaning towards the edge, the next moment she would have left the composition.

In “Es and Richard in the Kitchen,” Esme is seen in profile, standing at the kitchen counter in a floral dress and apron, while Joffe’s partner, Richard, sweeps something off the floor. His long gaze forward is completely disconnected from the viewer.

In contrast, Joffe’s self-portraits are infused with melancholy. In “Yellow Bed 3,” the artist lies in a fetal position, leaning on a red pillow, naked and crying. His face, composed of bold lines in reds, greens and yellows, evokes the mask-like faces of Picasso’s transitional works from the early 20th century, such as “Woman Braiding Her Hair” from 1906. Joffe’s head appears almost completely separated from the rest of her body, and in this inhuman form, serves as the emotional center of the composition. She sits on the edge of the bed in “Yellow Bed 2,” feet on the floor and head tilted downward, as if taking a moment to collect herself after sobbing or reflecting.

While the first gallery is filled with these small-scale, ephemeral moments in Joffe’s life with Esme, the second floor is reserved for enormous canvases of Joffe and Richard as they adjust to life without Esme in the house. Joffe is in that same yellow bed in many of these works, and now follows the movements of his day. “In the Kitchen” returns us to a familiar room, but this time Joffe is sitting on the floor in her bathrobe, eyes closed and knees pulled up to her chest, revealing her lack of underwear. She does not cook, as Esme did before, but rather she seems to meditate on the privacy and newfound loneliness, or emptiness, of her home. “Richard in Bed” is a nod to Philip Guston’s “Painter in Bed” (1973), his body wrapped in yellow and curled up in the sheets, except for his exposed arm. Both Chantal and Richard often seem caught up in the experience of being alone, finding their own sense of self amid the void left by their adult son.

Chantal Joffe: My dear fuck continues at Skarstedt Gallery (20 East 79th Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan) until June 15. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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