Joffe describes her portraits of the confessional poets as a means of “paying homage” to this group with whom she felt such a close emotional attachment that, she explains, they “began to feel like an extension of my family.” In regard to their writing, and their biographies, she admits to something approaching an obsession, drawn to this bohemian clique who lived so openly, divulging to each other, and to the world, their insecurities, neuroses, passions, and pain. “It’s so romantic, so irresistible in a way,” Joffe says. “They lived their lives almost without account. They didn’t look after themselves, physically or mentally. They weren’t careful. They lived their lives in free-fall.” That sense of abandon clearly appeals to an artist whose portraits are unapologetically honest and yet irresistibly sympathetic.
The extent and long duration of Joffe’s identification with her idols is apparent in a small collage, dating from 1994. Titled Anne Sexton and Me, it depicts the poet’s suicide in her car by carbon monoxide poisoning, her face here substituted for an incongruously cheerful, tightly cropped photograph of the artist herself. In person, the connection between these tragic, famously immoderate poets and the shy, solitary artist who sits with knees clutched up to her chin is hard to fathom. But in her painting, which combines the tight organization of form and color with a thrilling absence of restraint, the influence is unmistakeable. Joffe’s description of their poetry might also faithfully describe her own painting: “Pure expressionism doesn’t work ... it is just a vomiting out of crap. There has to be structure, control, intention.” In Joffe’s best work, her quick, expressive handling of flesh tones balances with perfectly weighted stripes, lines, patterns, and clever framing devices.