Chantal Joffe is an American-born British painter. She completed an MA at the Royal College of Art in 1994 and her work has been shown at the National Portrait Gallery and Saatchi Gallery in London, and the Jewish Museum in New York. Joffe’s large-scale paintings mainly depict women and children, and includes many self-portraits. In 2018, she painted herself each day as she went through a divorce and, in 2019, she created the series Pictures of What I Did Not See, which captured a traumatic illness. Her latest show, Story, focuses on ageing and motherhood and will open at Victoria Miro Gallery, London N1, when restrictions are lifted.
Tate Britain winter commission
Remembering a Brave New World by Chila Kumari Singh Burman cheered me up when I saw it on a grey December morning. It’s great to see the dour facade of Tate Britain covered in bright lights, eyes, an elephant and an ice-cream truck – eclectic, electric gaiety shining out. It’s beautiful and original, and so much more exciting than a stodgy Christmas tree. Go and see it if you live in London – it’s truly a festival of light and can still be enjoyed in our new lockdown reality.
This restaurant on the canal near the Kingsland Road bridge in east London managed to be open for a bit this autumn. It’s in a lockup that opens on to the canal, with green metal tables in the open air. It’s my favourite restaurant. The food changes but in the morning you can always have porridge with walnuts or fried eggs on toast. It’s run by Lori and the chef is Laura and it’s the most beautiful place to eat food like you wish you could make at home yourself, only much better.
Art historian Katy Hessel’s Great Women Artists podcast about the sculptor Alina Szapocznikow was great. She had a conversation with art historian Griselda Pollock, who spoke with such a passion, I had to see the work. Szapocznikow makes strange body casts, sections of torsos, and when Pollock made me aware of her history as a Holocaust survivor, the trauma in the work made so much sense. The work is somewhere between Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois.
We Are Who We Are took me a while to get into: the pace is slow and I had to concentrate quite hard to understand what was happening. It’s set on an American army base in northern Italy and is mainly about the teenagers that live there and how they interact with the Italian teenagers. In a funny way it does for a new generation what A Room With a View did for mine: it romanticises what it is to be a young visitor in Italy. Even though it’s a much more modern view, there’s something about Italy itself that steals the show for me: glimpses of Venice, the small coffee bars, even the buses – maybe an attitude to love and relationships. Anyway, I’m completely gripped.
The new book, Everybody, by my friend Olivia Laing is out this April. It’s a ride through the history of protest and change in the 20th century with Wilhelm Reich as the guide. I love how Laing presents the movements, and the writers, artists and thinkers who were involved in them, and brings them to life without ever judging them. Andrea Dworkin, Sontag, Malcolm X, Freud – they speak to us and come alive again, but we aren’t asked to decide if they are good or bad; we can listen to their thoughts and ideas. It’s a revelation in an age when we seem endlessly to judge and condemn our artists and thinkers.
Artemisia Gentileschi, National Gallery, London
For my final choice I am torn between two exhibitions that I loved – Artemisia Gentileschi and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye at Tate Britain, both of which felt radical and exciting. The Artemisia reduced me almost to tears. The sense of her courage, those extraordinary Judith of Holofernes paintings where she seems almost to be cutting off his head while giving birth to him. Art school memories of always being taught an all-male canon came back to me. The self-portraits where she literally paints herself into art history made me want to cry and shout and scream. Yiadom-Boakye’s show was exhilarating. Large, paintings gleaming on the walls, full of energy and mystery – they made me excited to see them.