Chris Ofili: Biography

Chris Ofili creates intricate, kaleidoscopic paintings and works on paper that deftly merge abstraction and figuration. Ofili rose to prominence in the 1990s for his complex and playful multi-layered paintings, which he bedecked with a signature blend of resin, glitter, collage, and, often, elephant dung. His works—vibrant, symbolic, and frequently mysterious—draw upon the lush landscapes and local traditions of the island of Trinidad, where he has lived since 2005. Employing a diverse range of aesthetic and cultural sources, including, among others, Zimbabwean cave paintings, blaxploitation films, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and modernist painting, Ofili’s work investigates the intersection of desire, identity, and representation.


Born in 1968 in Manchester, England, Ofili received his B.F.A. from the Chelsea School of Art, London in 1991 and his M.F.A. from the Royal College of Art, London in 1993. In 2005, the artist joined David Zwirner, where he has had four solo exhibitions at the gallery in New York. 


In 2022, Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York presented Chris Ofili: The Othello Prints in conjunction with a year-long festival centering on Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s Shakespeare-inspired jazz piece. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, for the opening of its new building, commissioned work by Ofili for an extended-run installation, which was on view from 2017 to 2019. In 2017, The National Gallery in London presented Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic, which marked the first time the artist had worked in the medium of tapestry. In the same year, Ofili created a site-specific artwork, incorporating a mural, for Marisol, the newly redesigned restaurant at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. 


In 2015, a group of Ofili’s paintings was included in All The World's Futures, the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor. The artist’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions worldwide, including Chris Ofili: Night and Day, the first major museum solo exhibition of the artist's work in the United States. The show was organized by the New Museum in New York, where it was first presented in 2014, and traveled to the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado in 2015.


Other monographic exhibitions have taken place at the Arts Club of Chicago (2010); Tate Britain, London (2010 and 2005); kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2006); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2005); and the British Pavilion, 50th Venice Biennale, Venice (2003). In 2017, Ofili was a recipient of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), awarded by the Queen, and in 1998, he was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize.


The artist’s works are represented in prominent collections internationally, including The British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Tate, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.


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