While being painted, author Olivia Laing pens her own portrait of Chantal Joffe and hears why painting is like hairdressing
Every time I go to Chantal's studio we eat cupcakes from Hummingbird Bakery, get hopped up on sugar and talk very fast. We met because she read my book The Lonely City and asked if I'd come and sit for her. I feel like we made friends as soon as I walked through the door. She says she's shy, but she's one of the most open, engrossing talkers I know. It feels like we both use portraiture to get at something deeper, and that I get a better sense of what that might be by way of our sprawling, rapid-fire conversations.
How do you catch reality, the actual minute? I wanted to see what would happen if I wrote about her while she was painting me, if we could survey each other at the same time in an act of simultaneous witnessing.
Image: Chantal Joffe (left) photographed in her studio in London with the writer Olivia Laing.
Photography: Suki Dhanda for the Observer