10 October 1968
Manchester, England, UK
|Education||Chelsea School of Art
Royal College of Art
|Notable work||No Woman No Cry (1998),
Captain s**t and the Legend of the Black Stars (1998),
The Upper Room (2002)
|Awards||1998 Turner Prize|
Christopher "Chris" Ofili (born 10 October 1968) is an English Turner Prize-winning painter who is best known for his paintings incorporating elephant dung. He was one of the Young British Artists. Since 2005, Ofili has been living and working in Trinidad, where he currently resides in Port of Spain. He also lives and works in London and Brooklyn.
Early life and education
Ofili was born in Manchester to May and Michael Ofili. When he was eleven, his father left the family and moved back to Nigeria. Ofili was for some years educated at St. Pius X High School for Boys, and then at Xaverian College in Victoria Park, Manchester. Ofili completed a foundation course in art at Tameside College in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester and then studied in London, at the Chelsea School of Art from 1988 to 1991 and at the Royal College of Art from 1991 to 1993. During that time, he was in a relationship with fellow artist Tomma Abts. In the fall of 1992, he got a one-year exchange scholarship to Universität der Künste Berlin.
Ofili visited Trinidad for the first time in 2000, when he was invited by an international art trust to attend a painting workshop in Port of Spain. He permamently moved to Trinidad in 2005. He lives with his wife Roba, former singer with trip-hop band Attica Blues, whom he married in 2002. He maintains a studio on Lady Chancellor Road, about ten minutes from downtown Port of Spain, in Trinidad.
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 the Serpentine 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.
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.
Ofili's work was featured in a museum in the 1995 exhibition Brilliant! New Art from London at the Walker Art Center. Significant solo exhibitions include the Arts Club of Chicago (2010), Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2006), the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2005), and the Serpentine Gallery, London (1998). In 2010, Tate Britain presented the most extensive exhibition of his work to date.
The Holy Virgin Mary
One of his paintings, The Holy Virgin Mary, a depiction of the Virgin Mary, was at issue in a lawsuit between the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art when it was exhibited there in 1999 as a part of the "Sensation" exhibit. The painting depicted a Black Madonna surrounded by images from blaxploitation movies and close-ups of female genitalia cut from pornographic magazines, and elephant dung. These were formed into shapes reminiscent of the cherubim and seraphim commonly depicted in images of the Immaculate conception and the Assumption of Mary. Following the scandal surrounding this painting, Bernard Goldberg ranked Ofili No. 86 in 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. Red Grooms showed his support of the artist by purchasing one of Ofili's paintings in 1999, even after Giuliani famously exclaimed, "There’s nothing in the First Amendment that supports horrible and disgusting projects!” The painting is now owned by David Walsh and is on display at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania.
The Upper Room and the Tate Gallery
The Upper Room is an installation of 13 paintings of rhesus macaque monkeys by Ofili in a specially designed room. It was bought by the Tate Gallery in 2005 and caused controversy as Ofili was on the board of the Tate Trustees at the time of the purchase. In 2006 the Charity Commission censured the Tate for this purchase.
Ofili is represented by Victoria Miro Gallery, London, David Zwirner, New York, and Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin. His Orgena, a glittery portrait of a black woman created by the artist for his Turner Prize-winning exhibit at the Tate in 1998 was sold to an American collector for a record GBP 1.8 million, over its GBP 1 million high estimate, at Christie's London in 2010. In 2015, art collector David Walsh sold Ofili’s 8-foot-tall The Holy Virgin Mary for 2.9 million pounds at Christie’s.
- Calvin Tomkins (6 October 2014), "Into the Unknown: Chris Ofili returns to New York with a major retrospective", The New Yorker.
- Chris Ofili Brief biography on ham. Retrieval Date: 26 July 2007.
- "AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLIE DARK OF ATTICA BLUES". Mo Wax Please. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
- Roberta Smith (October 30, 2014), "Medium and Message, Both Unsettling: ‘Chris Ofili: Night and Day,’ a Survey at the New Museum", New York Times.
- Michael Kimmelman (May 8, 2005), "Wake Up. Wash Face. Do Routine. Now Paint", New York Times.
- Carol Vogel (5 May 2005), "An Artist's Gallery of Ideas: Chris Ofili's Watercolors", New York Times.
- The Independent, February 27, 2000
- Free stuff by James Cowdery, 22 September 2005.
- Chris Ofili, Third Eye Vision (1999) Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
- Michael Glover, "Shock and awe: The art of Chris Ofili", The Independent, 22 January 2010.
- Adrian Searle (25 January 2010), "Chris Ofili heads into the shadows", The Guardian.
- Will Bennett, "Elephant dung artist gives a little back", The Telegraph, 22 February 2002.
- Robert Ayers (20 November 2007), Red Grooms’s Chris Ofili Drawing, ARTINFO, retrieved 17 April 2008
- Gabriella Coslovich (14 April 2007), The Collector (PDF), The Age, retrieved 24 December 2010
- Charlotte Higgins, "How the Tate broke the law", The Guardian, 19 July 2006.
- Kelly Crow (1 July 2010), "Christie's Sells Warhol 'Silver Liz' for GBP 6.8 Million", Wall Street Journal.
- Katya Kazakina (June 30, 2015), Ofili’s Madonna Sets Record at Christie’s $150.3 Million Sale, Bloomberg Business.
- Caroline Deeds and Kate Vogel "Artist Chris Ofili: beyond the tears", The Guardian, 3 February 2010. Tate Media film about Chris Ofili's 2010 exhibition at Tate Modern and how his move to Trinidad has freed up his work.
- Chris Ofili at the Museum of Modern Art
- Chris Ofili page, David Zwirner.
- Victoria Miro Gallery: Chris Ofili
- "Turner Prize 1998 artists: Chris Ofili", Tate.
- "Chris Ofili profile", BBC, 1 December 1998
- Defence of the Tate The Upper Room purchase.
- Criticism of the Tate The Upper Room purchase. Stuckism.
- Mark Hudson, "Chris Ofili: 'I wander deep into the forest - where it's scary'", The Telegraph, 25 January 2010.
- Chris Ofili, Rizzoli International, Fall 2009. Contributors include David Adjaye, Thelma Golden, Okwui Enwezor, Peter Doig and Kara Walker.
- "Shock and awe: The art of Chris Ofili"; feature by Michael Glover, and extract from "Ekow Eshun interviews Chris Ofili", edited by Helen Little in Chris Ofili (Tate Publishing, 2010), The Independent, 22 January 2010.
- Chris Ofili. Edited by Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari and Margot Norton. Skira Rizzoli, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8478-4456-2