Chris Ofili (b. 1968)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Chris Ofili (b. 1968)

Cupid's Wings

Details
Chris Ofili (b. 1968)
Cupid's Wings
titled, dated and inscribed 'oil paint, glitter polyester resin & elephant dung on linen Cupid's wings 1994' (on the stretcher)
oil, glitter, polyester resin and elephant dung on canvas
canvas: 47½ x 35¾ x 5in. (121.9 x 90.5 x 12.7cm.)
overall: 50¾ x 35¾ x 5in. (129.5 x 90.5 x 12.7cm.)
Executed in 1994
Provenance
Victoria Miro Gallery, London.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Phillips New York, 13 November 2000, lot 3.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Special notice

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Lot Essay

‘With the early works, the making of them had a kind of pain/patience barrier that, once crossed, allowed me to go into areas of sublime feelings of creativity. The hope is that the creative process takes you to those places’ (C. Ofili , ‘Thelma Golden & Chris Ofili : Conversation’, in Chris Ofili , New York 2009, p. 241).

‘It’s what people want from black artists. We’re the voodoo king, the voodoo queen, the witch doctor, the drug dealer, the magicien de la terre. The exotic, the decorative. I’m giving them all of that, but it’s packaged slightly differently’ (C. Ofili , ‘Excerpted from an interview conducted by Marcelo Spinelli in London, March 23, 1995’, in Brilliant! New Art from London, exh. cat., Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 1996, p. 67).

Embellished with iridescent tendrils of resin that writhe over the canvas in glittering arabesques of phosphorescent, day-glo hues, Chris Ofili ’s Cupid’s Wings is an extraordinary work that explores the artist’s early investigation into multiculturalism in Britain in the 1990s. Executed in 1994, the present work is characteristic of Ofili ’s explosive, abstract canvases of 1993-1995, such as his first exhibited work, Painting with Shit on it (1993). These early works enlisted an all over decorative style, concerned less with figuration than a commitment to painting, challenging the postmodern scepticism towards the medium that pervaded the art world at this time. Part of his signature elephant dung series, works such as Cupid’s Wings were responsible for catapulting Ofili into the public eye. In 1997 Ofili was included in a milestone exhibition at the Royal Academy, Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection, and just a year later, in 1998, he became the first black artist to be awarded the Turner Prize, the only painter to have won since Howard Hodgkin in 1985. Ofili ’s controversial oeuvre reinvigorated traditional painting with a cultural identity detached from the European conventions that had long dominated the medium, while referencing key figures in Western art history, from Gustav Klimt’s dazzling golden swirls to Jackson Pollock’s immersive, layered drip paintings. In the convergence of the artist’s African heritage with the great legacy of Western painting, a unique pictorial language was born that integrates high and low culture, and incorporates the urban black experience into a vernacular that had traditionally excluded it. Ofili is currently the subject of a highly acclaimed midcareer retrospective at the New Museum, New York.

Growing up in Manchester in the 1980s and 1990s amidst the rise of cultural diversity in Britain, Ofili ’s personal iconography references ethnicity and black culture. Born to Nigerian parents in 1968, Ofili did not visit Africa until 1992 when, with the assistance of travel funds from the British Council, he travelled to Zimbabwe to take part in the Pachipamwe International Artists’ Workshop. Collaborating with native Zimbabwean artists, Ofili was struck by the dichotomy between his formal art training (Chelsea School of Art, 1988-1991, followed by the Royal College of Art, 1991-1993) and the energy of the natural landscape that surrounded him. Bringing the environment directly into his painting, he applied dried elephant dung to the canvas. Ofili has described his motives for what was to prove a contentious direction in painting: ‘When I left college, I was trying to develop my own aesthetic, trying to make something that I felt was really beautiful to look at. I was aware that decorative beauty was a taboo thing, particularly in painting. If someone says, “Oh, it’s so decorative,” that’s a negative. But to me it would be one of the greatest compliments somebody could pay my work. Now the decorativeness has an edge, and the dung plays a big part in that’ (C. Ofili , ‘Excerpted from an interview conducted by Marcelo Spinelli in London, March 23, 1995’, in ‘Brilliant!’: new art from London, Minneapolis 1996, p. 67). Incorporating the black youth culture that was gaining prominence in modern society in the 1990s, Ofili drew together taboo-breaking influences from his American predecessor Jean-Michel Basquiat, to hip hop and contemporary jazz. The consolidation of dung into a highly decorative style that both endorses and is critical of western traditions in painting parodies the social taboos that multiculturalism aimed to dismantle.

In Cupid’s Wings Ofili presents his viewer with a phantasmagoria, an enchanted forest of translucent flowers snaking over the surface of the canvas. Shining pools of black resin underlay meandering twists and turns of deep purple and violet, with shimmering, rhythmic pointillist edges, inspired by the dot patterned walls of ancient cave paintings deep in the Matobo Hills in Zimbabwe. Layer upon layer of intricately rendered media creates the illusion of depth, yet, sitting brazenly upon the surface, in a bed of opalescent glitter, the globular elephant pats bring the work firmly back into the natural world. Inspired by the alchemical approach of Sigmar Polke, in Cupid’s Wings we see a similar approach to the process of painting taken to extraordinary new and exacting lengths. At the same time, Ofili liberates each of the elements within the composition and allows them to float and dance across the surface of the painting.

Ofili has long associated the spiritual effect of painting on the artist with self-discovery: ‘With the early works, the making of them had a kind of pain/patience barrier that, once crossed, allowed me to go into areas of sublime feelings of creativity. The hope is that the creative process takes you to those places’ (C. Ofili , ‘Thelma Golden & Chris Ofili : Conversation’, in Chris Ofili , New York 2009, p. 241). In a recent series of work based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Diana and Actaeon, exhibited at the National Gallery, London, in 2012, the artist returns to the spiritual and mystical themes that characterise the present work, reflected in the title, Cupid’s Wings, borrowed from classical mythology. Tackling head on the role that black artists play today, Ofili makes a connection with the fantastical, from legend to the occult: ‘it’s what people want from black artists. We’re the voodoo king, the voodoo queen, the witch doctor, the drug dealer, the magicien de la terre. The exotic, the decorative. I’m giving them all of that, but it’s packaged slightly differently’ (C. Ofili , ‘Excerpted from an interview conducted by Marcelo Spinelli in London, March 23, 1995’ in Brilliant! New Art from London, exh. cat., Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 1996, p. 67).

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