Blue Smoke (Pipe Dreams) belongs to a series of blue paintings that Chris Ofili began in the mid-2000s. Here, he depicts a bearded male figure smoking a pipe and a woman seemingly holding two glasses in her hands sitting together around a table. Yet the soft contrasts between the different variations of blue in the work make it difficult to see the figures clearly and the scene, in turn, reveals itself slowly, requiring the viewer's close examination to discern its subtleties. The overall effect highlights the flatness of the pictorial surface: while from a distance, the painting appears almost monochrome, it borders on abstraction when viewed up close, as the figures' limbs and nearby leafy plants appear and disappear from view, as if threatening to merge completely with the blue background. Art critic Klaus Kertess has noted how "The number and variety of reflective blues make it necessary to constantly shift positionThe blues arouse and seduce en route to metaphor and enigma."1
The smoke exhumed from the man's pipe further adds to a pervasive sense of mystery. After a few initial swirls, it creates the silhouetted outlines of a figure riding on a horse with another following behind on foot, seemingly dragged by a rope. Whether a hallucination, a vision, or a visual reflection of the man's thoughts, there is a rich, ambiguous ambiance that seems saturated with emotional and sensuous tinges. The smoke appears in the gap exposed by an open door behind the figures, suggesting a nighttime scene in a warm setting.
Different narratives seem to coexist, and the artist encourages open-ended interpretations. Commenting on his recent paintings, he notes: "I think there are more unknowns in the work for me now, in narrativeNow I'm more comfortable with not being able to pin down what's going on, and why. I'm at the beginning of something new."2
This development has coincided with Ofili's relocation from London to Trinidad in the early 2000s and he frequently acknowledges the effect his new country has had for his practice-in particular its mythological and symbolic richness and inspiring, lush landscape. "You have to let what you see here soak in over a period of time, before you can really work with the full range of this place," Ofili has noted. "I take a lot of what [it] gives for free, which is a very particular mystery which I value and think might have a place in painting now."3
1 Klaus Kertess, "Just Desserts," in Chris Ofili: Devil's Pie. Exh. cat. (New York and Gtingen: David Zwirner and Steidl, 2007), n.p.
2 Chris Ofili, cited in "Ekow Eshun interviews Chris Ofili," in Chris Ofili. Exh. cat. (London: Tate Gallery, 2010), pp. 96-105, p. 100.
3 Ibid., p. 96.