About the Artist
In Chris Ofili’s work painterly and cultural elements – both sacred and profane, personal and political, from high art and popular culture – come together to play on ideas of beauty while carrying messages about black culture, history and exoticism. Ofili came to prominence in the early 1990s with richly orchestrated paintings combining rippling dots of paint, drifts of glitter, collaged images and elephant dung – varnished, often studded with map pins and applied to the picture surface as well as supporting the canvas – a combination of physical elevation and symbolic link to the earth. He won the Turner Prize in 1998 and over the past two decades has exhibited in many international institutions. In 2003 he was selected to represent Britain at the 50th Venice Biennale, where he presented his ambitious exhibition Within Reach. In 2010 Tate Britain presented an extensive survey of his work and in 2014, Night and Day, held at the New Museum, New York, featured more than thirty of Ofili’s major paintings, in addition to drawings and a selection of sculptures from across his career. The exhibition travelled to the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado in 2015.
Chris Ofili in Paradise: Dreaming In Afro – Stuart Hall
In this The Long Read, first published in 2003, the eminent academic and writer Stuart Hall spent time with Chris Ofili as he prepared for the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
I have had the privilege of spending time with Chris Ofili in his studio, looking at the series of large paintings he is completing as the artist selected for the British pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale. These first impressions were written not so much ‘about’ as ‘with’ the work.
Chris Ofili is on the move. He is finishing the huge canvases which will be exhibited in his Within Reach show for the British pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale. As we move around his surprisingly dark studio space (the windows were already covered by green and red cloths when he found it!), reflecting now on one, now on another of these spot-lit, vibrant and pulsating visionary scenes, one is made aware again how intense and protracted is the ‘work’ of painting for Ofili. Only he knows how many of these he has on the go at any one time – bringing them out one after another, working on them for a while, putting them away again to, as it were, coalesce – perhaps even fundamentally to change shape.
The imaginary at work here is irredeemably ‘off-shore’, post-colonial, diasporic. And it affirms, against the grain, embracing its own creative powers: This Paradise is possible now. It is within reach.