Chantal Joffe’s Many Faces
Here’s the setup: palette, chair, mirror. The mirror is bandaged together with red-and-white tape that says FRAGILE, but let’s not make too much of that. The original plan was written on a scrap of paper: “small heads—meditations—buy lots of small boards.” The first was painted on January 1, 2018, “the worst day of the year,” not that the rest of the year was that much brighter. Joffe’s marriage was breaking up. She painted herself nearly every day, sometimes at night, always in fairly pitiless light.
Speaking broadly for a minute, she looks in this extraordinary series of self-portraits like someone almost warping under a heavy weight. Bowed down, weighted by feeling, she peers back at herself, artist prowling after sitter, avid to catch pouches, moles, sags, bags, and quirks of flesh. Maybe at first it looks like someone giving herself a hard time, the visual equivalent of how (women) rail against their face, their thighs. Something funny happens when a woman looks at herself, as if she can’t ever not be narcissistic, flaunting the way she either measures up or doesn’t to the flawless face we all carry around inside the handbag of our heads.
Image: Chantal Joffe, Self-Portrait, December, 2018