Personal Feeling is the Main Thing is the latest exhibition from renowned painter Chantal Joffe RA on show at The Lowry as part of Week 53 Festival. A tour de force in British painting, this exhibition brings Chantal's bold and expressive imagery to Manchester, where she reflects on the Week 53’s theme ‘Coming of Age’. Her works hang alongside four paintings by pioneering German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker – selected by Joffe herself.
We caught up with Chantal to talk about her work, materials and her upcoming projects:
This is your first solo exhibition in the North of England, what's it been like exhibiting at The Lowry?
The Lowry is a great place to show and Michael Simpson the Director was so sensitive and intelligent to work with, the whole experience was brilliant.
The theme for this year's Week 53 festival was 'coming of age' - which piece in the exhibition in particular reflects this theme for you?
I made the paintings of my friend Isabel's sixteen year old son Herb especially for the Lowry, because it seemed appropriate to the Coming of Age theme, I loved painting him, I’ve known him since he was born and now he’s 6 foot 3!
Chantal Joffe: Herb at Sixteen, 2018
Personal Feeling is the Main Thing is the name of the exhibition, would you say that personal feeling is the main thing for you when painting?
Personal Feeling is the Main Thing is a quote from Paula Modersohn Becker’s diaries, I wanted a title that described what I feel we share; if a painting doesn’t make you feel then it has failed.
Journeying through such a large body of your work you can really see how your paintings map the passage of time – how does your subject matter affect the way you perceive time?
When you paint you are in the present tense, it’s odd looking at this show, my daughter goes from a baby to a teenager, but I don’t see it like a photo album, paintings are not photos, they don’t have the same melancholy.
Chantal Joffe: Phoebe with Andrew, 2015
The last time we spoke you had recently begun to explore pastel drawings (with quite some intensity!). Since your exhibition at Victoria Miro have pastels continued to hold your interest?
I’m not using pastels at the moment, I’ve been working on a public art piece for Whitechapel station, the starting point is coloured paper collages, so the materials were paper, scissors and glue.
The work in the exhibition reflects on the relationships between yourself and others around you, namely your daughter Esme and your mother Daryll. How do you find painting through these relationships, and how does it influence them?
I often paint the people closest to me, and while I paint them I think about them, so hopefully the paintings hold these thoughts and feelings.
Chantal Joffe: Self Portrait in a Red Jumper, 2015
Do you find your relationship with materials mirrors that of a human relationship?
I don’t really fetishise my materials, I am pragmatic about them, I want them to work for me, do their job, be true colours and so on, I get angry if they let me down.
What are your essential materials for painting?
I like Michael Harding oils, I like to buy a random assortment of colours like Amethyst or Crimson and Emerald. My favourite brushes are Pro Arte and I wash my brushes probably four times a day. My top tip for brush washing is Imperial Leather soap because it's hard. I use Cold Pressed Linseed Oil to help make my paints fluid and it helps to keep the colour clean. For me everything is about keeping the colour clean, as un-muddied as possible. If you muddy it you've had it from the outset. I don't use turps anymore because I don't like the smell.
And do you have any tips for those who suffer from blank canvas stage fright?
I don’t have much advice for anyone else, I get stuck all the time, I recommend reading Sol Lewitts letter to Eva Hesse!
Chantal Joffe's Studio
The exhibition at The Lowry also includes a number of paintings from German Artist Paula Modersohn-Becker. Apart from her ground-breaking subject matter (as the first western female artist to paint a nude self-portrait) what is it about Paula’s work that drives you to her paintings?
Paula Modersohn Becker was a revelation to me, the directness, the honesty, the paintings have a kind of baldness, they always surprise me, I have a reproduction of one of the self-portraits on my window sill, she stares back at me while I write this.
Thank you so much for your time Chantal. I’ve just got one final question, what’s next?
I’m going to New York for August to swelter in the heat and paint water towers from the window of the apartment.
I can imagine it will be boiling! Thanks again Chantal and enjoy the water towers.