In 2010 Tate Britain will present a major survey of the work of Chris Ofili. Since his emergence in the mid 1990s, Ofili has built an international reputation with his intensely coloured and intricately ornamented paintings that bridge the sacred and the profane, popular culture and beliefs. This will be the most substantial exhibition of his work to date, bringing together approximately 45 paintings. Covering the period from the mid 1990s to the present day, it will also include pencil drawings and watercolours, as well as new work brought directly from the artist’s studio in Trinidad.
Works selected for this exhibition include signature pieces from the 1990s, such as Afrodizzia (2nd version) 1996, The Holy Virgin Mary 1996, and Blossom 1997. These exuberant paintings are renowned for their rich layering and inventive use of mixed media, including balls of elephant dung that punctuate the canvas and support them at their base, as well as glitter, resin, map pins and magazine cut-outs. Among these works will be No Woman, No Cry 1998, a tender portrait of a weeping female figure, created in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence enquiry. Brought together, these works will show how the artist’s formal inventiveness and experimentation have developed into a distinctive iconography, fusing hip-hop culture, spirituality, folklore, and the natural world.
The exhibition will include The Upper Room 1999-2002, a large-scale installation of thirteen canvases. These depict rhesus macaque monkeys, each differentiated in bold colours, and individually spot-lit to heighten their radiant, eye-catching qualities. Displayed in an environment especially designed by the architect David Adjaye, the works are shown inside a darkened, walnut panelled room, creating a chapel-like atmosphere that is at once sensual and profound.
These celebrated works will be reconsidered in the light of current developments in Ofili’s practice following his move from London to Trinidad in 2005. Whilst adopting more simple pared-down forms, his recent paintings continue to be expansive in their diverse sources of inspiration - full of references to sensual and Biblical themes as well as exploring a more recent interest in Trinidad’s landscape and mythology. In paintings such as Strangers from Paradise 2007–8 and Iscariot Blues 2006, the restricted palette of blues and silvers evokes the magical quality of twilight; whilst in The Raising of Lazarus 2007 he portrays a strange paradise in blocks of vivid colour, developing themes of seduction and salvation. In very recent works such as The Healer 2008, Ofili paints from and in the landscape, capturing the island’s mystical nature in the form of ’the healer’ an imaginary nocturnal figure who feasts on the bright yellow flowers of the poui tree. Several new canvases will be unveiled for the first time at Tate Britain, making this the most comprehensive presentation of his work to date.
A room devoted to works on paper will include rarely exhibited graphite drawings. Though less familiar than the artist’s paintings, these works on paper demonstrate the continuing importance of drawing within the artist’s practice.
Chris Ofili was born in Manchester in 1968 and graduated from the Chelsea School of Art and Design in 1991 and the Royal College of Art in 1993. He won the Turner Prize in 1998 and represented Britain at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. The exhibition is curated by Judith Nesbitt, Chief Curator, Tate Britain, assisted by Helen Little, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain. A fully illustrated catalogue produced by Tate Publishing accompanies the exhibition, including an essay by Okwui Enwezor, and an interview with the artist by Ekow Eshun.