I recently went to see Christ Ofili’s exhibition at Victoria Miro with an East London Fawcett art tour. I had fun writing a review for the CAN Journal.
I am about to do something which will either seem quite clever or very foolish: I’m going to compare Chris Ofili to Pablo Picasso.
If you look closely enough the parallels are there. Take for instance, Chris Ofili‘s 90s obsession with embellishing his paintings with elephant dung, and compare it with Picasso’s own comment that the pigeon droppings which decorated the paintings stored in the atelier of an apartment on Rue de la Boetie created “an interesting unpremeditated effect.”
But animal shit is really the least of their connections.
The comparison struck me at Ofili’s current show at Victoria Miro, to take and to give which brings together “a substantial suite of paintings and works on paper” inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses and produced as part of a collaboration with the National Gallery and the Royal Opera House. Here I thought of Picasso’s collaboration with the Ballet Russes on Parade and Le Train Bleu which led to incredible cubist costumes and sets, his marriage to dancer, Olga Khoklova, and a series of of Picasso’s own etchings and illustrations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Comparisons should strive to be generative rather than merely indicative. In this case it generates a picture of where Ofili is at in his career and what significance this might hold from an art historical perspective. Ofili’s 2010 Tate Britain show proved that the YBA and former Turner Prize winner had spent a good long time maturing in the heat of Trinidad and had emerged from night-time jungle walks a painter with a future as well as a past, the works on show at Victoria Miro show Ofili confidently settling into this future.
to take and to give is a beautiful show, both energetic and lyrical, exploratory and decisive. The real opera d’art is off stage and out of focus in a now past exhibition at the National Gallery, Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, and yet like many of Picasso’s studies, Ofili’s experiments and working studies are independently captivating.
Inspired by Ovid’s story of Diana & Actaeon and dancers from the Royal Opera House, Ofili’s collaboration has sparked frenzied work and an exciting new corpus for fans to devour. While the Hound‘s heads, with their puppet like photo-collaging, and the viciously surreal Nymphs, all communicate the wildness of a cannibalisitc myth, the cut paper portraits of Diana and Actaeon suggest all the elegance of the ballet’s performance of this.
There is an absolute sense of Ofili’s confidence in his line, a line which follows the speed and strength of movement and transforms it into the telling of myth. Study for Ovid-Desire, luxuriously patterned and framed, negotiates the feeling and submission to desire in the direction of line alone. There is a style to these drawings which now feels fully developed and completely Ofili’s own.
When the studies work up to colour they take on the grandness of the ballet. The smaller works in watercolour, charcoal and pastel are patchworks of the incredible colour palette Ofili developed in Trinidad, and they bring the strength of a single artist’s mythos to bear on an all-pervasive story. It is to take and to give of course, the giant acrylic on canvas, which is the centrepiece of the show; a mountain of writhing coloured female flesh and an offering to the gods.
My love for Ofili goes back a long way to bad quality images on Google printed out for sketchbook studies. If you’re interested in hearing me wax lyrical about Ofili some more here’s an old post from an old blog about his Tate Britain show.