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Chris Ofili

Born, 1968 in Manchester, UK

From the small, folded concertinaed brochure accompanying Chris Ofili’s mid-career mid-career retrospective at Tate Britain, 27 January - 16 May 2010. The brochure guided the viewer through the exhibition’s 7 rooms, each room dedicated to a different phase or period of Ofili’s practice thus far.

“Chris Ofili was born in Manchester in 1968, and discovered his love of painting whilst on Foundation course at Tameside College of Technology (1987-88). He went on to study painting at Chelsea School of Art and Design (1989 - 1991) and the Royal College of Art (1991 - 1993). Ofili won the Turner Prize in 1998 and represented Britain at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. In 2005, he moved from London to Port of Spain, Trinidad. [He received a BA from Chelsea School of Art and an MA from Royal College of Art.]

This exhibition begins with a selection of the exuberant paintings Ofili produced in the 1990s. These richly layered paintings pulsate with the colour and energy of the artist’s intricate brushwork, to which he added glitter, resin, map pins, and collaged magazine cut-outs. He also applied elephant dung balls to the canvas and used them to prop the paintings on the floor. Challenging stereotypical representations of black culture, Ofili created his own contemporary iconography combining Afro celebration, hip hop and gangsta rap, with comic caricatures and Biblical imagery.

At the centre of the exhibition is the extraordinary sensory experience of The Upper Room, 1999-2002. This series of 13 paintings is installed in a specially constructed vault designed in collaboration with architect David Adjaye. These celebrated works can now be considered alongside the artist’s recent paintings, which are profoundly affected by his observation of Trinidad’s landscape, customs and beliefs. Brought together for the first time, this wide range of work demonstrates Ofili’s continual experimentation with painting and the eclectic nature of his visual inspiration - from hip hop to spirituality, folklore, and the natural world.”

The exhibition covered some seven rooms of the Tate Britain and spanned the major aspects of his output thus far. The exhibition was accompanied by a substantial catalogue and other publicity and paraphernalia. Chris Ofili, the exhibition, garnered a range of press coverage of significant importance and quantity.

Chris Ofili was one of the artists included in Brilliant!: New Art From London, Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, 22 October 1995  - 7 January 1996 and Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, 17 February - 14 April 1996. The exhibition was one of a number that featured practitioners identified with the so-called yBa grouping. The term yBa refers to certain types of practitioners who collectively, and in some instances, rather loosely, came to be known as Young British Artists, or yBas for short. The term originated in the early 1990s, centred on the work of Damien Hirst and a number of other artists. In an essay The Tate, The Turner Prize and the Art World, Louisa Buck offered a useful summary of the term’s origins. “[Charles] Saatchi had attended [Damien] Hirst’s famous Freeze exhibition in 1988, and soon began to bulk-buy this new batch of home-grown talent. He also set about applying his marketing skills to the promotion of these artists and their work, initially in a series of widely publicised exhibitions at Boundary Road [the original home of the Saatchi Gallery, in St John’s Wood, London] during 1992-5 under the collective title of Young British Artists. The acronym stuck, and soon any artist of that generation, whether or not they had been to Goldsmiths [College], was branded YBA.” Louisa Buck, The Tate, the Turner Prize and the Art World, in The Turner Prize and British Art, Tate, 2007, pp. 12 – 25 (p.19). Chris Ofili was the only Black artist included in Brilliant!: New Art From London. This was at a time when Ofili’s distinctive use of elephant dung within his work was very much in its ascendancy and his Turner Prize nomination was still several years off.

GQ Magazine, December 1996, Great British Issue, was a celebration of Cool Britannia.  The issue included a feature on Art, trailed on the contents page as Britain’s young masters, and written by Louisa Buck. The first of the five artists featured, deemed to be most reflective of Cool Britannia, was Chris Ofili and to this end, a full page portrait of the artist opened the piece. The other artists featured were Simon Bill, Tracey Emin, Sam Taylor-Wood, and Gary Hume. Works in Progress. Put yourself in the picture with Louisa Buck’s portraits of five British artists with the talent to take on the modern world. GQ Magazine, December 1996, pp. 86 – 90.

From the GQ text, “The first thing you notice about Chris Ofili’s paintings is their almost indecent lushness. And then there’s the elephant shit. Protruding from their vivid, densely patterned surfaces are great boulders of resin-coated elephant dung, with more on the floor, supporting the canvases like the ball-feet of a Victorian sofa.”

Ofili was one of the three artists in CAVEPAINTING, featuring Peter Doig, Chris Ofili, and Laura Owens, 8 February - 31 March 2002. Santa Monica Museum of Art.

Kobena Mercer’s text, “Diaspora Didn’t Happen in a Day”: Reflections on Aesthetics and Time (in “Black” British Aesthetics Today, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007) erroneously states that Chris Ofili “won the 2002 Turner Prize”. The year was in fact 1998.

Ofili was one of very few Black British artists to secure huge amounts of press coverage, in a broad range of newspapers, magazines, and other publications. Ofili was also the subject of a very large number of catalogues, monographs, and documentaries.

Afrodizzia, (Second Version), 1996, Acrylic, oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins and elephant dung on linen, 243.8 x 182.8 cm was reproduced in Gen Doy’s Black Visual Culture, I.B. Tauris, 2000. Note. Within the book, the painting’s dimensions are given as 183 x 122 cm and the material is given as canvas, rather than linen.

On August 27, 2015, caa.reviews published a review by Carol Dixon, of Massimiliano Gioni Chris Ofili: Night and Day Exh. cat. New York: Skira Rizzoli in association with New Museum, 2014. 224 pp.; 140 color ills.; 8 b/w ills. Cloth $75.00 (9780847844562)
Exhibition schedule: New Museum, New York, October 29, 2014–February 1, 2015


The 2017 New Year’s Honours list, ammounced on December 31 2016, cited Ofili as having been awarded an OBE. 

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Related exhibitions + view all 14

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»  The British Pavilion, Venice

Venice, Italy

»  Cartwright Hall

Bradford, United Kingdom

»  City Gallery Leicester

Leicester, United Kingdom

»  Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston

Houston, Texas, United States of America

»  The Hydra Workshop, Hydra

Greece, Greece

»  Museum of Contemporary Art

Sydney , Australia

»  Serpentine Gallery

London, United Kingdom

»  Southampton City Art Gallery

Southampton, United Kingdom

»  Studio Museum in Harlem

New York, United States of America

»  Tate Britain

London, United Kingdom

»  Tate Liverpool

Liverpool, United Kingdom

»  Victoria Miro Gallery

London, United Kingdom

»  Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis, United States of America

»  Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester

Manchester, United Kingdom