Blue Devils
Chris Ofili

Chris Ofili

1968 - Present

Christopher Ofili, is a British painter who is best known for his paintings incorporating elephant dung. He was Turner Prize-winner and one of the Young British Artists. Since 2005, Ofili has been living and working in Trinidad and Tobago, where he currently resides in the city of Port of Spain. He also has lived and worked in London and Brooklyn.

Ofili has utilized resin, beads, oil paint, glitter, lumps of elephant dung and cut-outs from pornographic magazines as painting elements. His work has been classified as "punk art."

Ofili's early work was heavily influenced by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Georg Baselitz, Philip Guston, and George Condo. Peter Doig was doing graduate work at the Chelsea College of Arts when Ofili was an undergraduate, and they soon became friends. In 2014, art critic Roberta Smith held that Ofili has much in common with painters like Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, Robert Colescott and Ellen Gallagher, and with more distant precedents such as Bob Thompson, Beauford Delaney and William H. Johnson.

Ofili was established through exhibitions by Charles Saatchi at his gallery in north London and the travelling exhibition Sensation (1997), becoming recognised as one of the few British artists of African / Caribbean descent to break through as a member of the Young British Artists group. Ofili has also had numerous solo shows since the early 1990s, including at Southampton City Art Gallery]. In 1998, Ofili won the Turner Prize, and in 2003 he was selected to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale of that year, where his work for the British Pavilion was done in collaboration with the architect David Adjaye.

In 1992 he won a scholarship that allowed him to travel to Zimbabwe. Ofili studied cave paintings there, which had some effect on his style.

Between 1995 and 2005, Ofili focused on a series of watercolors, each about 9½ by 6½ inches and produced in a single sitting. They predominantly feature heads of men and women, as well as some studies of flowers and birds. Ofili's paintings also make reference to blaxploitation films and gangsta rap, seeking to question racial and sexual stereotypes in a humorous way. In a series of faces that Ofili called Harems, each arrangement consists of one man with as many as four women on each side of him.

Ofili's work is often built up in layers of paint, resin, glitter, dung (mainly elephant) and other materials to create a collage. Though Ofili's detractors often state that he "splatters" elephant dung on his pictures, this is inaccurate: he sometimes applies it directly to the canvas in the form of dried spherical lumps, and sometimes, in the same form, uses it as varnished foot-like supports on which the paintings stand.

Ofili has been founder and prime mover behind the short-lived Freeness Project. This project involved the coming together of artists, producers and musicians of minority ethnic groups (Asian and African) in an attempt to expose the music that may be unheard in other spaces. Freeness allowed the creativity of unsigned contemporary British ethnic minority artists to be heard. The result of months of tours to 10 cities in the UK resulted in Freeness Volume 1 - a compilation of works that were shown during the tour.

After relocating to Trinidad in 2005, Ofili began a series of blue paintings inspired by the Jab Jab or "blue devils" who participate in the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, and the Expressionist group of German and Russian artists, Der Blaue Reiter. These paintings often employed the use of a silver, acrylic background with layers of dark oil pigment on top. Later iterations of these works were shown at Ofili's solo show Chris Ofili: Day and Night at The New Museum of New York which were installed in a very dimly lit room, causing viewers to adjust their eyes to the darkness in order to see the paintings.

Ofili was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to art. Ofili was included in the 2019 edition of the Powerlist, ranking the 100 most influential Black Britons.

Text courtesy of Wikipedia, 2024