Nick Hackworth

Chantal Joffe Victoria, Miro Galllery,

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Chantal Joffe, now 33, first came to attention rather disingenuously when Saatchi bought a series of her paintings of hardcore pornographic scenes and included them in his ill-fated New Neurotic Realism exhibition.

In the context of Saatchi’s collection, the work seemed to mark Joffe out as yet another artist interested in shock, whereas in retrospect she is clearly a painter interested in painting. That much is evident as the pornographic images sit comfortably alongside the other subjects that Joffe has consistently painted since graduating from the Royal College of Art — women and babies, generally treated individually but occasionally placed within large, collaged landscapes. All are treated equally in Joffe’s quick, ironic, faux-naïve expressionist and very contemporary painting style.

Here Joffe exhibits about 25 smallish paintings of individual women, mostly measuring around 50cm square, and in a smaller room off the main gallery, around 10 still smaller paintings of babies.

In a happy unity between content and style, the women depicted are also very contemporary. Culled in the main from the pages of fashion magazines, the solitary women pose somewhat self-consciously and stare directly at the viewer (originally a photographer, before Joffe translated their images into oil). Some sit awkwardly on stools and chairs, others stand nervously, cradling cigarettes and Martinis. The background interiors, which she used to omit in favour of neutral monochromes, help to strengthen the narratives hinted at by the peculiar blankness on the faces of the women. They seem to inhabit airless atmospheres that cumulatively speak of the wider vacuity of the fashion and media worlds.

Though not all Joffe’s works are equally accomplished — some of the babies, for example, appearing rather crude — she does succeed in harnessing the expressive qualities of her chosen painting style. With fluid strokes of oil paint, she constructs portraits with some psychology and emotional force.

Other painters working in a similarly loose style, such as Elizabeth Peyton and Sophie von Hellerman, have touches that are too light for their own good. Moreover, the equality with which Joffe treats her various favourite subject matters is in itself eloquent, suggesting that in this age of over-abundance in both image and experience, all is one.

Until 7 May. Information: 020 7336 8109