Chantal Joffe, Victoria Miro Gallery, 21 Cork Street, London W1 (0171-734 5082), to 2 May
Louise Richardson, Montpelier Sandelson, 4 Montpelier Street, London SW7 (0171-584 0667), to 10 May
Two shows this week: both by women artists born in 1969; both at the start of promising, if very different, careers. The first, Chantal Joffe, was one of the more conspicuous new talents at the Royal College of Art degree show in 1994. Her big rude paintings were hard to miss, not least because of their subject matter, but also because of the way that she paints with a kind of easy control - effortless without being slick.
Since then she has scaled down her work and toned down her subject matter, although the pages of pornographic magazines still seem to provide occasional inspiration. However, she now also makes use of more innocent images from childrenswear catalogues and the like. The current show at the Victoria Miro Gallery consists of 60 or so figure paintings (mostly women and young girls) arranged in two blocks, so that each work, although a picture in its own right, seems like a fragment of a larger whole: part of a population of awkward little people.
At first glance they look simple enough, frothy, charming, even a bit childish, but they have an unsettling quality which gives the exhibition an odd, rather menacing mood.
Something similar, although stemming from very different work, hangs over Louise Richardson's exhibition of recent sculpture at Montpelier Sanderson.
Richardson, a graduate of the Norwich School of Art, makes sculpture in wax, lead and various unlikely materials including, in the current show, a dress that looks like fur, but turns out to be made of nails. It is a surreal, slightly sinister bit of sculpture which signals a tougher approach. (In fact, this is the second of three similar pieces she has made. The first caused a stir of interest at this year's Art 97, with people queuing for a look at it.) Her work has always been beautifully constructed but on the evidence here it is becoming less fragile and more durable, in every sense.
EYE ON THE NEW Gainsborough's House in Suffolk is not just the birthplace of one of our greatest painters. It also has a lively exhibition programme and a newly refurbished printmaking workshop (opens from 22 Apr thanks to pounds 64,200 from the Lottery.
46 Gainsborough Street, Sudbury, Suffolk (01787 372958)
"The Tollund Man", Seamus Heaney's brilliant "bog people" poem, has inspired the work in Michael Rees' first London exhibition. The imagery is a bit glum: skulls, bones and the like, but they're nicely painted and, from pounds 170, surprisingly cheap.
Austin Desmond, Pied Bull Yard, 68 Great Russell Street, London WC1
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