This was a pleasant surprise. Chantal Joffe is a very good young British painter who I'd never heard of before I wandered into the gallery the other day. Joffe paints large scale figurative images that, at least in this show, focus on young women. The expressive painterliness of the work, and the strange meandering distortions of the bodies made me initially think of Alice Neal. The work is also in the same school as Egon Schiel, or Chaim Soutine, where anatomical accuracy submits to the physical properties of the paint. They're actually the kind of paintings Marlene Dumas would be doing if Marlina Dumas were a better painter.
The size of the paintings at first struck me as a little awkward and self important given the seeming immediacy in which they were painted, but I could soon feel the weight of the gestures, and the expressive slap of the wet brush strokes that requires this kind of scale. There are, in fact a few smaller paintings in the back that don't carry the same strength of the big ones. The big sweeping strokes of paint also show off the bold and imaginative way Ms Joffe renders the bodies and creates unpredictable flesh tones.
I found out from the press release at the front desk that she usually gets her images from fashion spreads and magazine ads, but these paintings are from photos Joffe herself took bakstage at Paris fashion week, and are meant to "reveal a sense of vulnerability and openness, characteristics not usually associated with the polished identity of high fashion". Hummm. I didn't really get that, but she is a hell of a good painter.