- Chris Ofili
- Charmant eight
- signed, titled and dated 2005-2006 on the reverse
- oil and acrylic on aluminium foil and canvas
- 269.3 by 200.7cm.
- 106 by 79in.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
"I was trying to find new ways to use a colour to the point of saturation, to the point where you don't see it."
The artist cited in: Peter Doig, Carol Becker, David Adjaye, Okwui Enwezor, Kara Walker, Thelma Golden and Cameron Shaw, Chris Ofili, New York 2009, p. 244
Monumental in scale, seductive in composition and sumptuous in hue, the nocturnal and mysterious Charmant Eight evidences the zenith of Chris Ofili's mature visual rhetoric. Marking a new direction in the artist's style following the aesthetic exuberance of the preceding decade, the acclaimed Blue Paintings of 2005 and 2006, of which the present work is definitive, provided the arena in which Ofili could pursue a singular ambition: "I was trying to find new ways to use a colour to the point of saturation, to the point where you don't see it." (The artist cited in: Peter Doig, Carol Becker, David Adjaye, Okwui Enwezor, Kara Walker, Thelma Golden and Cameron Shaw, Chris Ofili, New York 2009, p. 244). Masterfully evident in the present work, surface complexity, lyrical composition, and a resplendent palette are distilled and channelled into a figuration that borders on the abstract. Articulated via deeply saturated, intense blues and punctuated with shimmering silver, this work attests a heightened seriousness in the artist's practice. Like one of Matisse's iconic late paper cut-out collages, this radical and mature work signals a similarly confident and direct approach to picture making, and a departure from the lurid and heavily worked surfaces of the elephant dung paintings that had stood as such a synonymous signature motif.
As the artist has commented, the Blue Paintings enabled him to simplify and refine his approach to colour and composition, while also enabling him to further challenge the technical and physical boundaries of painting through experimenting with a wholly new material vocabulary. Composed from a mosaic of clearly delineated flat shapes of rich colour smothered on canvas and underlying polygons of reflective metal foil, the moonlit landscape of Charmant Eight reveals Ofili's masterful draughtsmanship and compositional fluency. Comparable to his radical use of dung, glitter and magazine cut-outs, the patchwork of juxtaposed shapes and materials is decorative yet dramatic and visually challenging, endowing 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. Symbolically replete with references to the singular, sensual mythology of Trinidad's cultural landscape, Ofili paints a nocturnal and tropical Eden in which the formal suggestion of moonlight, snakes, fruit, trees, and figures, fuse and harmoniously interweave. In Charmant Eight, under a silvery orb-like moon, tessellating shapes of oceanic blue and shimmering silver coalesce to form serpentine and swooning forms to evoke the narrative sequence of a snake charmer wooing a hooded cobra that looms up to dance before us.
As with Ofili's densely layered canvas composites of resin, cut-out magazine, glitter and map-pins, a cacophony of cultural and mythological signifiers also runs through the strata of the imagery in the Blue Paintings. Directly contemporaneous with the Charmant paintings and providing significant thematic overlap Ofili created the series The Blue Riders. The name of this corpus follows the appellation of Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc's Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) movement, and simultaneously parallels its dream-like ideology. A manifesto devised over coffee in 1911 and published in Munich the following year, Der Blaue Reiter comprised, according to Marc: "the latest painterly movement in France, Germany and Moscow and shows its fine connecting threads with Gothic art and primitive art, with Africa and the great Orient, with highly expressive, original folk art and children's art, and especially with the most modern musical movement in Europe and the new ideas for the stage of our times" (Franz Marc cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Berlin, Contemporary Fine Arts, Chris Ofili: The Blue Rider, 2005, p. 104). In line with the Wagnerian concept of the 'total artwork', The Blue Rider called for a synthesis of the arts across the genres of painting, music and stage, inclusive of a unification of disparate cultures and nationalities. Following almost a century later, Ofili's assumption of this modernist legend is inherently spurred by a great affinity with Der Blaue Reiter's belief in an all-encompassing amalgamation of the arts; particularly their references to music and an insistence for the equal status of art, irrespective of its origin or audience. For Kandinsky, whose 1903 painting Der Blaue Reiter gave name to the movement, the spiritual extraction of the colour blue was rooted in the eternal. Thus associated with the absolute, an artistic conceit expanded by Yves Klein in his endeavour for a zen-like state via experiments with monochrome and invention of the International Klein Blue pigment, Ofili's chromatically reductive blue works refer not only to a cultural and artistic unification, but also denote aesthetic clarity and sublimation. In the blue paintings Ofili strives to "slow down vision", a meditative anathema to the bombast of his previous work.
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. Playing on ideas of beauty, black culture, history and exoticism, his work effortlessly transcends social and cultural boundaries, combining the sacred and the profane with popular culture and contemporary beliefs. Departing from the artist's vivid flamboyancy that reached a climax with the four-year production of his Tate masterpiece, The Upper Room, which opened in 2002, Charmant Eight is a sublime demonstration of Ofili's expansive and ambitious approach to painting. In this mercurial work, his singular ability to combine myriad forms, influences and techniques into a single, harmonious image is exemplified. In recognising that often the most radical creative breakthroughs do not necessarily require new components, but rather involve revolutionising existing ones, the reinvigorated sense of creative freedom displayed here in form, colour and movement position Ofili as one of the most exciting and innovative painters working today.