Saturday, 6 February 2010

Chris Ofili....

....Richie, Kelly & I went to see this show last night and I've got to say, I was immensely excited at the prospect. Ofili first came to my attention when he won the Turner Prize in 1998. Twelve years later he returns to Tate Britain with a retrospective that won’t disappoint.

Chris Ofili

In his early career, Ofili’s paintings were most famous for being supported by balls of elephant dung, which often over shadowed his extraordinary use of colour, decoration and mark-making – a style that created some of the most scintillating paintings I had ever seen. Map pins, resin, glitter, collage – everything was included and layered to create the final work.

Afrodizzia (2nd version), 1996

So, to actually see them up close, only centimetres away, was an absolute joy. The detail and intricacy of marks and decoration blew me away. And then to stand back and observe each painting from afar, then as a whole room, was one of the greatest exhibition experiences I have had.

It's easy to see why some of the subject matter courted controversy too – Rudy Giuliani, then New York mayor, tried to prosecute the Brooklyn Museum for exhibiting ‘Holy Virgin Mary’, a painting depicting a black Mary surrounded by cut-outs from porn magazines.

Holy Virgin Mary, 1996

In the years that followed, Ofili's style expanded in to his 'red, black & green' phase and his worship-like 'Upper Room' installation, inspired by a 1957 Warhol sketch. Drawings and watercolours, (the latter in particular), proved an invaluable stepping stone to his more recent work.

Afro Sunrise, 2002-2003

The new paintings have been pared down, stripped back - to the bare-boned imagery that you suspect always lay hidden underneath all the glitz and glam.

More reflective of his current home in Trinidad & Tobago, colours and subjects are more thoughtfully observed – initially less enticing, but ultimately more satisfactory.

In all, it is a dazzling show. A cool show even, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I like his early, more famous work more, but the direction in which Ofili's paintings are heading is an exciting change and still bustling with the colours that drew me in from the start.

No comments: