Art is not a mirror

First of all this is a milestone in blogging for me, this is my 200th post!  I have been waiting a while before making this post, as I wanted it to be a special one and as I have just been to two amazing exhibitions I thought I’d share them with you.

On Sunday, Mothers Day to be precise, I took myself off to the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings to see the exhibition of paintings by London-based artist Chantal Joffe.  For those unaware of Joffe, she is a portrait painter, mainly of women generally on a very large-scale, her work is expressive and often features found imagery from fashion magazines as subject matter.  However, the work at Hastings concentrates on friends and family as subject matter.  On one wall are a set of 3 paintings of Joffe’s teenage niece, Moll.   The subject stares directly out of the painting at the viewer in a manner which characterises most of the paintings.  There is something melancholic about the work, perhaps it is the eyes, over-large almond shaped, the subject generally fixing the viewer with a challenging gaze.  These paintings are about 10 feet tall.  A slightly shorter pair of paintings are of a woman with short brown hair.  In one the woman is dressed in jeans and a denim shirt which is open although her breast are not visible, it is a classic pose from one of the fashion glossies.  The subject glares out of the picture, challenging the viewer to ‘judge’ her.  In the second painting the same woman is wearing just her jeans,  her torso is naked and she has her arms clasped around her upper body.  Her face is turned slightly away, her eyes do not make contact with the viewer and there is a feeling of unease, perhaps of shame.  This feeling is also evident in the painting of the girl in a swimsuit, who looks uneasy, her knees clamped together.    Joffe paints in a fluid manner, unconcerned with the effects of under layers seeping through, she uses large brush strokes to capture personality and movement.  It is not a large show and probably not everyone’s cup of tea; but if like me, you are interested in people and contemporary portraiture then it’s a Must See.  The exhibition runs until 12th April at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings.

joffe poster

Chantal Joffe is Beside the Seaside at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

Now that I was on an exhibition visiting ‘roll’ I went up to Tate Modern yesterday to see the Marlene Dumas exhibition.  While I have long been aware of Dumas work, I have never really spent time studying it and when the subject of this exhibition came up during a recent conversation with some friends I decided that I should visit.

South African born Dumas who now lives in the Netherlands is widely regarded as one of the most prominent and influential painters working today.  Her work explores themes of love and death, sexuality and shame and often makes reference to art history, current affairs and popular culture.  She never paints directly from life, instead choosing to use pre-existing images – in much the same manner as Joffe.  For Dumas, and I think also Joffe; despite the digital age we live in it is the physicality of the human touch and the potency of painting that is paramount.  The current Tate exhibition “The Image as Burden” spans almost her entire career and also includes various texts written by the artist.  her work is generally large and often uses colour sparingly; she never makes preparatory sketches and since the 1990’s has focussed on ink wash drawings, but in vast scale, something not generally associated with this medium.

One of the most interesting displays is the wall of “Black Drawings” which a series of small drawings and paintings – 112 in total of the faces of black people taken from early 20th century documentary photographs of ethnic African people.  The original photographs concentrated on the bodies of the subjects, yet Dumas has focused on their faces, giving them identity and dignity.  It is powerful and interesting work.  Another room hold a pair of paintings titles “Great Britain 1995-7”  The subjects of the pair of paintings are fashion model Naomi Campbell and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.  Campbell is depicted semi-nude in a pair of white knickers, arms hang loosely at her side, she stares moodily out of the canvas.  This painting was originally painted as part of the “Magdalena”series of paintings until paired with the Diana painting.  In stark contrast, Diana is painted in a frothy pink dress seated on a gilded chair with a ‘romantic’ backdrop framing her.  She looks demurely across and out of the picture avoiding the gaze of the viewer, much in the style of Gainsborough.  By pairing the two paintings together, Dumas creates a lively dialogue about class, race, style, femininity and essentially – Britishness.

As with the Joffe exhibition, I think this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is worth seeing as it presents a challenge to the way portraiture is generally seen, it asks questions not only of itself, but of the viewer, challenging preconceptions and ingrained viewpoints.  I think the best way to sum both these exhibitions up is from words written by Dumas…

“She creates herself.  She is not here to please you.  She pleases herself.  The question is not “who is she?” but “who are you?”


Marlene Dumas, The Image as Burden is at Tate Modern until 10th May 2015


About paisleypedlar

Artist, Sewist, sometime Cyclist and Arm Chair Activist
This entry was posted in acrylic painting, Art, art and design, Books, costume, drawing, drawing and painting, Fashion, Fine Art, mixed media collage, Museums and Galleries, oil painting, pencil drawing, photography, printmaking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Art is not a mirror

  1. Brilliant as ever Gill and congratulations on your 200th post x

  2. Jan Hamilton says:

    Hi, I am a newcomer to your blog. I have also been excited by both exhibitions. Looking forward to your next post. Jan.

    • Hi Jan, thanks for stopping to read my blog. Both these exhibitions are exciting aren’t they, there is nothing quite like coming away from a show feeling intrigued and inspired. My next post will be about Alexander McQueen at the V&A next week, hope you enjoy reading it.

  3. i would so love to go to some of these exhibitions i wish i had more time. everything always seems so far away from us norfolk lot. However maybe i should make a bit more of an effort , we do always go to galleries whilst on holiday so i always look forward to that. also Norwich has some pretty good exhibitions so I think u have inspired me to give me a shove in that direction. Congratulations on your 200th post. i wish i was more diligent with mine x and thx for stopping by recently. i shall also try to be inspired by your blogging efforts and get some mojo backxxx

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