The present lot Eye For Eye, Tooth for Tooth belongs to Chris Ofili's acclaimed series of paintings entitled the 'The Blue Riders'. Begun shortly after moving to live in Trinidad in 2005, this series, characterised by its nocturnal landscape subjects and its pared-down, full-moon palettes of inky blues and shimmering silver leaf, was in stark contrast to the vibrant and intensely worked paintings he had produced throughout the previous decade. Ofili had recently completed a 4 year long commission for the Tate's monumental 13 panel masterpiece, The Upper Room, and by the time he moved to live in Trinidad, there was a distinct hunger for change in his artistic practice. After so much exuberance, the 'The Blue Rider' paintings represented a dramatic, more serious shift in his attitude. Like Matisse's iconic late paper cut-outs, this radical and mature body of work signalled a similarly confident and direct approach to Ofili's picture making that was diametrically opposed the lurid and heavily worked surfaces of the "elephant dung" paintings that had become something of a signature motif for Ofili.
Replete with references to Biblical themes as well as to the singular, sensual mythology of Trinidad's specific cultural landscape, 'The Blue Rider' series encouraged Chris Ofili to simplify and refine his approach to colour and composition. They also enabled him to further his challenge to the technical and physical boundaries of painting through experimenting with a wholly new vocabulary of assorted media. Composed from a mosaic of sueded, dyed and silvered leather and cardboard, the moonlit landscape of Eye For Eye, Tooth for Tooth reveals Ofili's masterful draughtsmanship and compositional fluency. Comparable to his radical use of dung, glitter and magazine cut-outs, the collaged patchwork of juxtaposed leather and card surfaces here is harmonious and decorative and yet dramatic and visually challenging. It revokes the viewer's habitual associations of these utilitarian mediums and endows the composition and its component parts with jewel-like materiality and a real sense of depth that Ofili offsets against his conscious flattening of the picture plane.
Inspiration for 'The Blue Riders' series came from a legendary early modernist publication of the same name, Der Blaue Reiter, which was conceived by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc in Munich in 1911 as "the organ for all the new, genuine ideas of our times. Painting, music, stage, etc." Their aim was for a synthesis of artistic genres and a complete unification of the arts whereby the entire breadth of new creative expression would be presented simultaneously in the sense of Richard Wagner's concept of the total artwork. The group's name was derived from a painting by Kandinsky who saw blue as the colour of spirituality; for him the darker the blue, the more it was capable of awakening human desire for the eternal. Ofili's gravitation almost a century later towards their idea was doubtless led by his own sympathy with Der Blaue Reiter's belief in an amalgamation of the arts; particularly their references to music and an insistence for the equal status of art, irrespective of its origin or audience.
Selected as the UK's representative for the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003, Ofili is one of the most popular and innovative artists of his generation. His work effortlessly transcends social and cultural boundaries, combining the sacred and the profane with popular culture and contemporary beliefs. Playing on ideas of beauty, black culture, history and exoticism, his exuberantly coloured and heavily ornamented paintings draw on a panorama of influences and are celebrated for their inventive interweaving of assorted, non-art media, ranging from balls of elephant dung and glitter to resin, map pins and magazine cut-outs.
Eye For Eye, Tooth for Tooth is a sublime demonstration of Ofili's mature and increasingly spacious approach to painting. In this mercurial work, his singular ability to combine myriad forms, influences and techniques into a single, harmonious image are exemplified and distilled. In recognising that often the most radical creative breakthroughs do not necessarily mean adding new components, but rather involve refining exiting ones, the renewed sense of creative freedom displayed here in form, colour and movement points to the original origins of Der Blaue Reiter, and position Ofili as the movement's rightful 21st century heir.