It comes as something of a shock to discover that all the paintings in this show are self-portraits. Her earlier works were vibrant and engaging and often seemed to be filled with sunlight. The row of faces here are gaunt and grim.
The energy apparent in the way the paint has been applied if anything has increased. She has called her self portraits therapeutic. ‘When things are hard in my life, I will paint myself’.
They are not simply unforgiving, the atmosphere of gloom is close to despair. They were all painted in 2018 or 2019 and they do seem to be in tune with the times. As Hamlet observed ‘the time is out of joint’.
The most striking evoked for me the fictional character of Madame Defarge (image 1),
the tricoteuse of the French revolution. In two other paintings a slash of emerald green across the eyelids makes the face look crazed and makes them especially harrowing (image 2).
Joffe is extremely talented and these works, more than any others I have seen, stick in the mind. You need to be feeling quite robust when you visit but you will not be disappointed.
Chantal Joffe is at Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 George Street, London W1S 1FE until 18 May