A new retrospective of works by Young British Artist alumni Chris Ofili is set to open at the Tate Britain in London next week.
Emerging in the mid 1990s with a unique style that featured colourful and vibrant paintings created by layering different materials, punctuated with a collage effect that includes glitter, resin, map pins, magazine cut-outs and even balls of elephant dung. His early work drew on a series of pop culture influences including blaxploitation films, hip-hop and funk, and tackled issues such as racism and sexuality head on.
Ofili’s career was given a high profile start, in 1997 when he was chosen to be part of “Sensation”, the notorious Charles Saatchi curated exhibition which kicked off the YBA movement and launched the careers of Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin and many others. The exhibition featured a series of controversial works, but most controversial of all was Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary”, an image of the religious icon depicted as a black African surrounded by his chosen media of elephant dung and a collage of images taken from pornographic magazines. When the painting was shown at the Brooklyn Museum of Art then New York mayor Rudy Giuliani was outraged, declaring it as “sick stuff”, he threatened to withdraw the museum’s funding and took legal action against them. The issue became one of the biggest in New York with politicians, writers, artists and movie stars getting involved… Giuliani eventually lost the case with the federal courts ruling that it violated rights to freedom of speech, but it cemented Ofili’s reputation.
Ofili’s success continued, winning the Turner Prize in 1998 for his painting “No Woman No Cry” (below) and representing Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2003.
In 2005 he moved to the Caribbean and his work rate slowed down, prompting many to speculate that he had withdrawn from the art world. However this couldn’t be further from the truth, he has continued to create works and developed a more mature style which has adopted a simplified colour palette and pared-down forms that explore religious ideas and his Trinidadian home’s landscape and mythology several of which are included as part of the 45 paintings, and numerous pencil drawings and watercolours, in this exhibition.
The Chris Ofili retrospective is at the Tate Britain in London from 27th january until 16th May.