"When you change the medium, you change everything," says Chantal Joffe, of her pastel works on paper, which are to go on show for the first time at an exhibition in Italy next month. The artist brings a combination of insight and integrity, as well as psychological and emotional force, to the genre of figurative art. In these recent works, the sense of mobile immediacy that distinguishes Joffe’s paintings is intensified. Focusing on relatives, friends and herself in scenes of leisure and domestic life, she brings images robustly to life using sticks of coloured pastel on fine-toothed paper.
While drawing has always been integral to Joffe’s practice, the medium of pastel offers a number of unique challenges and opportunities. Joffe has described the absorbing, as well as the highly physical experience of the work’s making, the thickly applied pastel accumulating with a luminous purity that is markedly different from the act of painting and the ways in which oil behaves on canvas or board. "You can get a kind of brutality with pastel that you can’t with paint," Joffe explains. "With paint, there’s always an extension of your arm and brush. Whereas pastel is so primitive. You can’t draw hard enough."
This highly visceral process of laying down line, form and colour serves to condense an always palpable sense of connection between artist and subject in Joffe’s work. Conveying both the physicality of her engagement and the movement of the human bodies she portrays, these works build upon complex narratives about perception and representation. Ostensibly depicting scenes from everyday life – a windswept walk along beach, the artist’s daughter, dancing, sewing or putting on a shoe – the works in this exhibition alert us to the endless nuance of bodily expression and the myriad ways in which we reveal ourselves and communicate emotion, such as happiness, sadness, confidence, doubt or even distraction, consciously or not.
Born in 1969, Chantal Joffe lives and works in London. She holds an MA from the Royal College of Art and was awarded the Royal Academy Wollaston Prize in 2006. Chantal Joffe: Pastels will run from 14 April until 19 May at the Victoria Miro gallery in Venice, Italy.