Amelia’s Magazine | Chantal Joffe exhibition


is a particularly curious addition to the constellation of cable channels; the kind of channel that runs at home in the flickering background or in the insomnia-laden hours of the early morning. FashionTV is a merry-go-round of glossy catwalk films and behind the scenes ‘footage’. This leads to moments of unintentional insight; a particularly frail looking model weighed down by her costume or a worried look dancing across a beautiful face when the cameras roll on too long.

The painter Chantal Joffe’s new show seeks out these disjunctions, the gap between the fashionable fantasy and reality. For one half of this, her third solo show at Victoria Miro, she was given backstage access to Chloe’s Paris fashion week show, via her friend and the house’s designer Paolo Melim Andersson. ‘Backstage’ is a group of twenty-two smallish paintings, none bigger than A4. Exhibited close together, like a designer’s inspiration board, there are moments of reflection.

This contrasts with the main room, where six giant canvases hang, their size in-keeping with Joffe’s earlier work. These works, mainly of models, have a totem-like quality. Like her fashionable subjects, Joffe’s paintings look great, with hues that seductively harmonise, with draughtsmanship that is taut, even when paint drips.

‘Red Boat‘ depicts a model reclining in a mango-coloured swimsuit, projecting a Gatsby-like aura; the model’s too-blue eyes hints at a vacant innocence that is somewhat circumspect. There is a wonderful moment with ‘Man with a Drink’, who looks like a standard issue art beardy complete with geek glasses- a mirror to real life must have occurred at the private view.

But, as an examination of the fashion industry, the question arises: what can Joffe add beyond the surface? She is too close to her subject to be truly critical. She captures the lure of fashion well but, apart from a few of the pieces such as ‘Red Boat’, the other works fall down with its darker side. ‘Backstage’ is an attempt in this direction but does not give more insight than, say, (unintentionally) poetic moments from FashionTV. Comparisons, made by the artist and others, to Degas’ ballet dancers become less relevant- the power of his work centred on voyeurism and a contrast with the perfection of the dancers on stage. The backstage here is one that the PR people are happy to have exposed.

There are a few other small paintings in the show, of male models and two children in a paddling pool. In the accompanying catalogue, Joffe is described as attending to ‘emotions and feelings as the face reveals and expresses them’. Rather than this, what is conveyed is the essential unknowable quality of other people; from the blankness of the faces, the knowing poses directed at the viewer with the moments of distraction and contemplation seen in ‘Backstage’.

This show is visually rich and well worth seeing. But in what sense it takes us backstage, either in terms of the fashion industry or the human condition, is debateable.




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