Trinidad – Creative new beginnings for Chris Ofili – Tate Britains Retrospective Exhibition

Still in his early 40’s Chris Ofili has presented a very powerful retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain this month, and currently on exhibition until May 16th 2010.

He demonstrates his ability to communicate in a highly original visionary way, using his cultural heritage and cultural identity, religious background and biblical art history he positively flaunts his black heritage in a highly confident and personalized original style of painting. The 45 paintings, pencil drawings, watercolours and installation in the upper room displays thirteen canvases’ of monkey magic-sex, money and drugs, the created environment gives a chapel atmosphere, each canvas much like “see no evil”,” hear no evil”, or “speak no evil”, behind the monkey dance exotic flowers, swamped in azure blues, orange’s, gold and insipid greens turquoise, much as a Chinese ornamental decoration. The strong sense of it’s a jungle out there the exotic vitality is spot lit with the vision of the sacred monkey.  Much akin with Mark Rothko’s concept the mosques of highly emotional dark colours of abstractions, that deal with spirituality of mood in paint, within the installation environment.


The exhibition demonstrates his ability as a black British Artist, born in Manchester with parents of African heritage, to use vivid colours with an aboriginal pointillist effect on canvas. Paintings with original invention and experimentation using polyester resin, elephant dung, photographic collage and glitter to produce iconic imagery which is rooted in black culture. The paintings of which Afrodizza painted in1996 with rich tapestry’s of brightly acid colour’s mixed media, with glitter display a 1970’S psychedelic black soul, R&B music, and Urban soul with acid colours associated, with Sly and the family stone, Hip-hop mythology, but most vividly with his imagination the elements drawn from the natural world and the raw material’s being, used the sculptured shithead of elephant’s dung. The feel of Aboriginal dot paintings, with the map-pins.

By Reputation Chris Ofili won the Turner prize in 1998, only five years after graduating from the Royal College of Art. With a Jean-Michel Basquiat in your face African. He is a triumph to the Culture of  I am very proud to be black British, very well educated with a strong Catholic religious upbringing and his first degree in fine art painting from Chelsea school of art , and a postgraduate training at the Royal College of Art from 1991 -93.

In the earlier paintings titled “No woman no cry” 1998 he deals with political statements much as the title of Bob Marley song, but this for him represents a profile female portrait of a black weeping woman. The subject the aftermath of the Stephan Lawrence enquiry, the painting is homage to Doreen Lawrence, his mother the pearl’s of wisdom in the tear drops, that run down the face of the women inside there is collaged a small photograph.  Just like one would wear in a pendant the hidden image a small photograph the likeness of Stephen Lawrence.

The emotional colours, which the paintwork expresses, carry the folklore tale of the tragic grief suffered by the miscarriage of justice and racism, expressed by a deep sadness as the sorry of a  woman whom mourns the death of her son.  If ever there was another painting in history that was similar it would be the “Weeping Woman” by Picasso, painted in 1937 that expresses the similar contortions of grief felt in the painted extremes of angst in a female profile. It marks the same tragic “Cry” as “the Scream” of anger of a great loss from the human soul.


Another early painting, with aspects of social comment is “The Holy Virgin Mary” painted 1996, its source a religious portrait of the black Virgin Mary.

The cut-out collaged photographic mixed media work with a highly sexually explicit body parts from pornographic magazines, collaged alongside the religious portrait of the black Virgin Mary.           

 The overall effect of the Holy Virgin Mary was I guess a great shock, in 1999 when the mayor of New York threatened to withdraw the funding from the Brooklyn Museum and the nature of the controversy the painting caused. At one point while on exhibition with Sensation a man smeared the painting with white paint. The tapping into a religious energy like William Blake it’s an attempt to understand the ancient mystery which then presents itself against a backdrop of modern womanhood and the seedy nature of Kings Cross, prostitutes, pimps  and drug dealers in the urban jungle his city studio, in London.

In the final Rooms of the exhibition, Chris Ofili comes into his own the surface of paint techniques no longer the major concern anymore, as he moves to Trinidad in 2005.  His Imagination is expressed on large format paintings in a very confident manor with historical references to The Blue Rider a Kandinsky association and the use of strong German expressionist colours.

It seems that The Trinidad Landscape has become his subject, waterfalls the moonlight “Dance in shadows” and the “Raising of Lazarus” alongside confession (lady Chancellor) 2007 he has found a his twilight zone within his imagination. The exotic birds and wildlife amongst palm trees and the narratives, from his observations and feelings towards the relaxed atmosphere in Trinidad.

If you have experienced a West-Indian Catholic heritage, you will remember childhood stories of Rosary beads and the same religious doctrine, the repeated stories read out from the bible. I understand the alter boy role and the bible being repeatedly read out, my mother experienced the same religious doctrine, and how much sanctuary is in the resurrection of early Childhood experiences and the abandonment the catholic church in the repeated stories of how important the church was for local communities a focal meeting point of social interaction, for the smaller West-Indian Islands.


It seems that Chris Ofili is now relaxed in a new working environment Trinidad that has fuelled his imagination amongst the poisonous snakes he finds a venom to fight back amongst the paradise of the tropical mythic and visionary biblical William Blake inspired. Will Trinidad remain his spiritual home and continue to provide a rich and fruitful ground for him to produce such fine paintings, a place that can encompass the wilds of his imagination.         

  Read More About Chris Ofili   

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