The exhibition (3 September–22 November 2020) explores the intimate act of painting and portraiture. Taking its name from J.D. Salinger’s short story For Esmé – with Love and Squalor (1950) in which time hangs as heavy as the protagonist’s ‘enormous-faced chronographic-looking wristwatch’, the exhibition captures the changing faces across the years of Chantal and her daughter Esme, moving between mother and daughter, love and squalor, and the act of care and being cared for.
Including a number of new works (many produced whilst in ‘lockdown’), highlights include a series of portraits of Joffe’s daughter, from older works such as Esme (First Painting) captured as a new-born swaddled in blankets, to the later, defiantly awkward, Esme in White, painted within days of her sixteenth birthday this year.
These sit alongside a number of self-portraits, including the both intimate and monumental Bonnard inspired Reading in Bath I and III; never-before seen series Pictures of What I Did Not See, which depicts Joffe undergoing a traumatic illness and being cared for by Esme and a series of startlingly honest self-portraits. Produced one a day over the course of a year this 2018 series captures both the artist and her environment – from London’s cool winter light to the haze of a summer in the stifling New York heat.
The relationship between subject and place (specifically the domestic interior) and solitude and company within each of these works feels especially resonant. To paraphrase co-curator Dorothy Price, art historian and long-time collaborator of Joffe, Joffe’s work ‘traces a finger of time through the very act of being alive.’
Image: Chantal Joffe, Esme at the Kitchen Table, 2019