With influences ranging from Piero della Francesca to Edgar Degas and Francis Bacon, Joffe has based her work on a direct and intimate observational relationship between the painter and her sitter. She is also engaged in a continuing series of candid, often searing self-portraits, and tender double portraits featuring herself and her daughter, Esme.
Joffe regards her previous show at Cheim & Read, Night Self-Portraits (May 14–June 20, 2015), as a personal breakthrough. As she told the Canadian cultural journal Border Crossings, “I felt those self-portraits were getting closer to the kind of honesty I want.”
In the current exhibition, the artist paints women and girls alone, with the exception of “Brody in Pink,” a portrait of a mop-topped, blond young man, and “Self-Portrait with Esme in a Striped Nightie,” which contrasts the soft ovals of the artist’s nearly naked body with the horizontal blue-and-white stripes of her daughter’s nightgown. Within this relatively narrow subject area, Joffe experiments wildly with form, color, texture, and approach.
There are a number of portraits of Bella, the 9-year-old daughter of a close friend, whose eyes turn toward the viewer with a startling self-confidence bordering on defiance. These canvases are executed in flat, planar color, while others are divided into stark contrasts of shadow and light, the paint laid down in slashing strokes from a loaded brush. “Red Head in Garden Chair” evokes the lurid color and sculptural chiaroscuro of German Expressionism, while “Brunette in Pink Suit” is assembled from Cubist facets and “Yellow Slacks” recalls the flattened shapes of Edouard Manet’s “Olympia.”
In two very different portraits of Esme wearing a tartan coat, Joffe differentiates the abstracted surface of the tartan fabric through her control of the paint, with one image clean and geometric, and the other thickly brushed and tactile. The paintings in this show swing between the poles of forethought and improvisation, as flurries of brushstrokes repeatedly clash and fuse across the canvas’s arena of action. Although drawing is important to her, she never delineates her forms, but rather allows color and shape to merge as a cumulation of her imaginative processes. As she told The Independent in 2014, “I paint to think.”