The Easel

29th June 2021

Chantal Joffe: Story

Joffe has said “As I get older, only the personal seems to matter”. Portraits of herself and family members thus dominate her output. These works are acclaimed because they describe an emotional landscape, especially the one she shares with her mother, whom she has been painting for over thirty years. Whether childhood memories or images of an aging parent, the writer admits they collectively “create a sensory and emotional landscape I didn’t want to leave.”

Carved into history: the life of Grinling Gibbons

No superlative seems too grand for Gibbons, whom some consider the greatest woodcarver in history. Dutch born, he spent his career in England where, for decades up to about 1700, his patrons included a succession of kings. What set his carvings apart was an exuberant but naturalistic style – “cascades of fruit, leaves, flowers, foliage, fish and birds.” Without doubt, he “helped to shape the aesthetic of the British baroque.” A video (4 min) is here.

In the studio with James Barnor: ‘I never thought the world would see my photographs’

The teenage Barnor had a choice – basket weaving or photography. Easy! He developed a relaxed, candid style that helped give an energetic face to the newly independent Ghana. Between Accra and London his eclectic practice spanned studio portraiture, photojournalism, fashion and social commentary. In retrospect, Barnor admits he had ambition but not expectation – “I never thought the world would see my photographs”. Images are here.

Eileen Agar

Agar’s writings show an interest in life’s big themes. Did her art meaningfully address them? Not every critic is convinced. Collage was her strongest work and, with their unexpected juxtapositions, have a surrealist flavour. Before and after were abstract paintings. Overall, “the work never settles, as if [seeking] the next visual possibility”. One critic notes her early rebelliousness is gone from the late work. “Recanting? Not exactly, but somewhat akin”. Images are here.