"Since he moved to Trinidad, Chris Ofili has absorbed the prismatic colors of the tropics—you can’t not here. But he determined not to traffic, in his work, in the noontime brightness that is its own kind of Caribbean cliché. His most potent works dwell in the blue-black hues of the twelve hours per day when the bougainvillea and creepers are cloaked in dark. Something else that’s caught his eye here are two kinds of cages. One of these is the kind that holds birds—the wire abodes that house Macaws and Picoplats and, especially, rust-bellied finches that adorn porches and whose cages you can see men in sandals toting down the road at dusk. The other kind is meant to contain humans. It’s the form of cage that people have fashioned from and around their homes."
Published in Chris Ofili: Paradise Lost, a new catalogue from David Zwirner Books, this essay by the critically acclaimed author of Island People: The Caribbean and the World (2016) charts the history of chain-link fences. Focusing on a selection of the photographs that helped inspire Ofili's solo exhibition Paradise Lost at David Zwirner, New York in the fall of 2017, Jelly-Schapiro goes on to explore what this imagery tells us about Trinidad in particular and the Caribbean as a whole. These two essays—one visual, the other literary—open onto a whole new set of interpretive possibilities for this groundbreaking artist.
Read the full essay in The New York Review of Books. Chris Ofili: Paradise Lost is available from David Zwirner Books.
Major Commission for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Chris Ofili was invited by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago to design an immersive interior, including a large-scale mural, for the newly renovated restaurant Marisol. The restaurant is now open as part of a $16 million renovation of the museum's public spaces.
As The New York Times reported, "The highlight is a new restaurant . . . [The museum] has selected the Turner Prize-winning artist Chris Ofili, who now lives in Trinidad, to create a major site-specific mural for the restaurant, which will be his first permanent museum commission in the United States. 'Really, the entire restaurant is his commission,' Ms. Grynsztejn [Madeleine Grynsztejn, Director of MCA Chicago] added.
June 9 – October 7
Blue Bathers (2014) by Chris Ofili was included in the group exhibition Blue Black at Pulitzer Arts Foundation.
Curated by the American artist Glenn Ligon and inspired by Ellsworth Kelly’s sculpture Blue Black (2000) which is permanently installed at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, the exhibition explored questions about language, identity, and perception through the lens of these two colors.
As Ligon explained in an interview with The New York Times, "In his [Chris Ofili's] Blue Bathers, the blueness is about Trinidad, where his studio was. Ofili's describing this kind of equatorial light, how in Trinidad even in the darkness there's a luminosity. [That he was] able to capture that in the painting, I thought, was amazing."
The exhibition also included Untitled (policeman) (2015) by gallery artist Kerry James Marshall.
Chris Ofili awarded a CBE
Chris Ofii has been honoured for his work by being made a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). The news was announced in the Queen's round of honors in April, and the awards given at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London.
Ofili, who was born in Manchester in northern England and studied in London, is quoted in The Guardian as saying, "We set up our life in England and it’s so special to be recognized for what I do in England and Britain, and for my parents that they made a great choice and invested so much in me. It feels as though I have achieved a lot."
April 26 – August 28
Weaving Magic presentsed an exquisite handwoven tapestry entitled The Caged Bird's Song. The work reflects Chris Ofili's interest in classical mythology and contemporary "demigods" as well as the stories, magic, and colors of Trinidad, where he has lived since 2005. Commissioned by the historic British Clothworkers' Company, the tapestry was made in collaboration with Dovecot Tapestry Studio in Edinburgh. The exhibition also included a series of preparatory works on paper in an installation conceived by the artist for the Gallery's Sunley Room. The tapestry will go on permanent display in the Clothworkers' Hall in London.
Ofili says, "The Caged Bird's Song is a marriage of watercolour and weaving. I set out to challenge the weaving process, by doing something free-flowing in making a watercolour, encouraging the liquid pigment to form the image, a contrast to the weaving process." The Telegraph's review of the exhibition states, "The Caged Bird’s Song is a sumptuous monumental tapestry in which Ofili's painterly skills have been almost miraculously translated into thread to present a lush, limpid scene in which the arcadian landscapes of classical mythology are given a contemporary, tropical twist."
Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, Ofili's previous exhibition at the National Gallery, presented costume and set designs created in collaboration with the Royal Ballet. The project was based on Titian masterpieces depicting stories from Ovid's epic poem Metamorphoses: Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon, and Diana and Callisto.
Read more about Weaving Magic in The Guardian and The Observer.
Chris Ofili: Night and Day
October 29, 2014 – February 1, 2015
Chris Ofili's first major museum survey in the United States was organized by the New Museum in New York. "For more than two decades," Roberta Smith wrote in her review for The New York Times, "the work of this British artist has dazzled and discomfited, seduced and unsettled, gliding effortlessly between high and low, among cultures, ricocheting off different racial stereotypes and religious beliefs."
The exhibition featured paintings, drawings, and sculptures created in London and, following Ofili's relocation in 2005, in Trinidad. The paintings Ofili made soon after moving to Trinidad are executed in a rich palette of blues. As the artist explained to Calvin Tomkins in a New Yorker profile: "I realized it was more than a color...I had found that if you put silver underneath blue, the blue sits back, like night, or glows like moonlight." These works mark the transition, in Ofili's own words, to "a process of looking that was slower" and account in part for the nocturnal element of the exhibition's title. "That Ofili could cast painting into such a powerful somnambulant fugue state after doing what he'd done so vibrantly for ten years," Jerry Saltz wrote in New York Magazine, "is a testament to his talent and control."
Night and Day also included recent paintings featuring vibrant characters, elements of landscape, and mythical references. Writing in The Village Voice, Christian Viveros-Faune was reminded of art historical precedents, and concluded that these works by Ofili mark the latest stage "in the development of a painter who, as this retrospective amply demonstrates, became a modern master."
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated publication with texts by Massimiliano Gioni, Glenn Ligon, Minna Moore Ede, Alicia Ritson, Matthew Ryder, Robert Storr, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Night and Day traveled to the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado in 2015.
An epic live episode of Dialogues. In journeying deep into Homer’s Odyssey in front of an audience at David Zwirner’s 69th Street gallery in New York, artist Chris Ofili and classicist Emily Wilson encounter religion, art, personal history, gender issues, Trinidad, Greece, truth, lies. Featuring a live reading from Wilson, the first woman to translate The Odyssey into English and a 2019 MacArthur Fellow.
Image: Chris Ofili, Lucas Zwirner, and Emily Wilson at David Zwirner, New York, 2019
Published this month by David Zwirner Books, William Shakespeare × Chris Ofili: Othello features twelve etchings by the artist that illustrate Othello’s plight in ways no other volume of this play has. Featuring an introduction by the author Fred Moten, the book is part of the Seeing Shakespeare series. Ofili’s recent solo exhibition in New York featured works inspired by Othello, as well as the figure of Calypso from Homer’s Odyssey.