Artist Dossier: Chris Ofili

Artist Dossier: Chris Ofili

Born in October 10, 1968, Christopher Ofili is a Nigerian British contemporary painter, who became the first Black artist to be awarded the British Turner Prize in 1998. Ofili has also been appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for his services to society through his artistic practice. He currently resides in Port of Spain, and between London and Brooklyn. His early work was heavily influenced by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Georg Baselitz, Philip Guston and George Condo, although in a 2014 report by art critic Roberta Smith, his work drew a comparison with other artists like Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, Robert Colescott and Ellen Gallanger.

image: www.bbc.co.uk

The artist’s work delves into the theory of hybridity; a significant theme he utilises to address his British Nigerian identity. The term coined by the postcolonial theorist, Homi Bhaba, addresses the impact of migration in a hyper globalist system. It observes the attitudes of colonised people, their colonisers, and the complex identity birthed from this mix of cultural multiplicity. Ofili’s paintings like most Nigerian modernists often blend indigenous iconographies with Western techniques. By using collage and multimedia techniques, he suggests the hybridity of coming together in one space. He also deals with elements of Black experience, as he explicitly challenges white supremacy and the shortcomings of being both a Black citizen and a Black artist. He is also one of the few artists to make work that scrutinises police brutality against Black people, by using a subdued, dark palette – differing strongly from his bright, flowery and aesthetically pleasing oeuvre – reminiscent of his popular signature incorporation of elephant dung that exemplifies his penchant for the unorthodox.

No Woman, No Cry, 1998, 243.8 x 182.8cm (www.tate.org.uk)

The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996, mixed media, 253.3 x 182.4 cm (www.nytimes.com)

Chris Ofili’s paintings were regarded as controversial in the 90s, an era that was highly experimental with art and witnessed the beginning of social non-conformity. With stylistic hip-hop, anti-racial and political references of popular allegories, in 1996 he created The Holy Virgin Mary, mixed media (acrylic, oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins and elephant dung)/linen, 253.3 x 182.4 cm, a depiction of a Black Madonna surrounded by Blaxploitation movies and close-ups of female genitalia cut from pornographic magazines. In 1997, the painting was included in the Sensation exhibition in London, Berlin and New York, which ran till 2000. The work was even more controversial in New York, with the Mayor at the time, Rudolph Giuliani labelling Ofili’s work as “sick”. In June 30, 2015, the art collector David Walsh sold the 8-foot-tall painting for £2.9 million ($4.6 million, buyer’s premium inclusive) at a Christie’s Postwar & Contemporary Art auction in London. It was originally estimated between £1.4 and £1.8 million.

In June 30, 2010, Orgena, 1998, mixed media (acrylic, oil, polyester resin, glitter, map pins, elephant dung) on linen, 182.4 x 121.4 cm, 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 at £1.8 million ($2.4 million, buyer’s premium inclusive) at Christie’s Post-war and Contemporary Art auction in London. Shortly after that on May 11, 2011, an Untitled painting, 1999, mixed media, 180.7 x 121.9 cm, was also sold at Christie’s Post-war and Contemporary Art sale in the United States for £1.4 million ($2.3million, buyer’s premium inclusive) with an original estimate of £1.2 to £1.8 million. Afrodizzia, 1996, mixed media (collage, oil, glitter, resin, map pins, dung) on linen, 243.8 x 182.9 cm, was originally estimated at £267,150 – £374,010 but on May 12, 2005, it was sold at a Phillips de Pury & Company Contemporary Art auction for £535,154 (an average of $1 million, buyer’s premium inclusive). More recently, Afromantics, 2000 – 2002, mixed media (acrylic, oil, leaves, glitter, polyester resin, map pins, elephant dung) on linen, 262 x 183.6 cm, originally estimated between £1 and £1.5 million, was sold for £1.3 million (buyer’s premium inclusive) at a Sotheby’s The History of Now: The Collection of David Teiger auction in October 5, 2018.

 

References

Carol Vogel (5 May 2005), “An Artist’s Gallery of Ideas: Chris Ofili’s Watercolors”, The New York Times, Retrieval date: March 3, 2019

Ryder, Matthew (28 October 2014). “Chris Ofili’s Blue Devils: between black men and the police”. The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieval Date: March 3, 2019

Will Bennett, “Elephant dung artist gives a little back”, The Telegraph, Retrieval date: March 3, 2019

Karl Thompson, “The Hyper-Globalist/ Optimist View of Globalisation”, Revisesociology, Retrieval date: March 3, 2019

Bhabha, Homi K. “Postmodernism/postcolonialism.” Critical terms for art history. Ed. Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Bhabha, Homi K. “Hybridité, identité et culture contemporaine.” Magiciens de la terre. Ed. Jean Hubert Martin. Paris: Editions du Centre Pompidou, 1989

Chris Ofili retrieved on March 14, 2019 from www.artprice.com


A culture enthusiast, Christina Ifubaraboye holds a degree in mass communications from the University of Hertfordshire. Christina's interests lie in cinema, social justice, the media and the role it maintains in the digital age, while her focus is on challenging commonly misconstrued narratives in society.

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