My art book of the year: Chris Ofili

My choice is the Judith Nesbitt’s book on Chris Ofili. Inside the pages we are taken on a journey that includes exuberant mixed media colour work on canvas and watercolours to fine drawings and photography. In this book we see the vibrancy and potency of Chris Ofili’s work, page after page of exotic colours and subject matter. Drawing inspiration from the Caribbean where he now lives and works, to the more sensational works that included elephant dung made in the early part of his career.

Ofili’s work can be regarded as having a comical perspective on potentially serious issues and is definitely not PC. His paintings fizz with psychedelic ripples across effervescent surfaces. We see Ofili pushing the boundaries of what is seen to be the accepted norm of the embellished canvas, making the images glow on phosphorescent backgrounds. When asked about the act of painting such works he replied “I was trying to get as deeply lost as possible in the process of painting and the painting itself”.

People and places are very much part of Ofili’s repertoire and are referenced directly in the imaginary portraits of Peul women, we see their luxuriant hair, jewels, hennaed lips, dramatic make-up and configured head scarves. In these works Ofili takes his inspiration from the West African photographers of Salla and Mama Casset, Meissa Gaye and Seydou Keita.

Nesbitt’s book gives us an insight into the life and work of an artist born to Nigerian parents and brought up in Manchester. Winning the Turner Prize in 1998 and given support from Charles Saatchi helped Ofili to gain recognition and become one of very few British artists of African/Caribbean descent to breakthrough. Often described as a member of the Young British Artists , you might want to look at the work of the members of this group and consider whose work will stand the test of time.


  1. Dawn Finneran 16 December 2010 at 1:45 pm

    This is one of my favourites also – If you like this one be sure to check out Chris Ofili (2009) Rizzoli New York isbn-13: 978-0-8478-3215-6 It shows many other works and has amazing close-ups. I am writing my FYW critical review on Ofili and have been looking at aboriginal art also not connected directly with Ofili although the dot techniques on layers is the same. A good book about Aboriginal Art is Wally Caruana Aboriginal Art (1989) Thames and Hudson. These three books together blow my mind….

    As for the YBA’s I am at present reading Julian Stallabrass HIGHARTLITE. The Rise and Fall of Youing British Art revised and expanded edition (1999) Verso

    A really interesting topic and well worth a read
    Dawn 🙂

  2. Rhonda 16 December 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I went to see his exhibition earlier this year at Tate Britian and found it enthralling. The colours were just brilliant the whole place vibrated with them. Each piece was a feast for the eyes and held my gaze for quite some time to take in all the information applied to each of the canvasses and works on paper. Having carried out an arts project working with schools and community groups several years ago that was about Aboriginal Art it is fair to say that some of Ofili’s work does resonate with it. I shall certainly check out the other book you have recommended on Ofili’s work and about the YBAs which sounds very interesting.

    1. Gareth 16 December 2010 at 4:48 pm

      For the those interested in Seydou Keita there is some fascinating video here (starts at about 4 minutes)

  3. Dawn Finneran 17 December 2010 at 12:02 pm

    The Rizzola publication is great because for EG it also shows sketches and pre-lim drawings (usually watercolour) for the paintings.

  4. Stephanie Grant 19 December 2010 at 12:52 pm

    I like the look of this book, I am also constantly searching in my life to push through boundaries then this I hope will in turn be reflected in my work.
    I will now certainly put this on my reading list

  5. Rhonda 19 December 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Hi Stephanie

    I hope you find this helpful and hope to see some of your work on the OCA website that you have can is inspired by what you discover in this book.


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