Chantal Joffe’s studio near Old Street is everything you want an artist’s lair to be. A hive of activity, a place where magic happens, every surface spattered and flecked with paint, tubes of oil colours and boxes of pastels piled haphazardly on tables, well-thumbed books everywhere, images all around. Propped up against walls and on window sills are Joffe’s paintings, in various states of completion, from tiny images she’s just made of water towers in New York to the self-portraits she makes every day and the large, vividly coloured paintings of people that have made her name. It’s a room that reflects an artist for whom making and thinking about art is a compulsion, not just a job.
Joffe is the latest London luminary to sign up as a judge for the £10,000 Evening Standard Art Prize, joining her friend, the writer Olivia Laing — who’s written beautifully about sitting for a portrait by Joffe — and Evening Standard art critic Matthew Collings among others on the panel.
Prize entrants will be gratified to know that Joffe thinks deeply and passionately about art in its myriad forms, but inevitably has a special love for painting. The hour I spend with her is filled with discussion of art and artists across the ages: she’s just returned from New York, where she was beguiled by a Cycladic female nude in the Metropolitan museum, and she revisited Alice Neel’s half-naked portrait of Andy Warhol in the Whitney (“To sit in front of Warhol and do that, and to have the courage to do it…”). She enthuses about Bonnard and the recent Picasso show at Tate, and tells me of her lifelong love of Giacometti and Matisse. “I used to go to bed with Matisse’s Red Studio on the floor, open [in a book], because that’s what I wanted, and I had this thing that it seeped into your head overnight.”
Image: Portrait of Chantal Joffe by Matt Writtle