Christmas Eve (Lazarus)

Christmas Eve (Lazarus)
signed, titled and dated ‘Christmas eve (Lazarus) 2007 CHRIS OFILI’ (on the reverse)
oil and charcoal on linen
62 ½ x 38 ½in. (158.8 x 97.8cm.)
Executed in 2007
David Zwirner, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.
New York, David Zwirner, Chris Ofili: Devil’s Pie, 2007, pp. 46 and 144 (illustrated in colour, p. 47).

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Lot Essay

Executed two years after his move to Trinidad in 2005, Christmas Eve (Lazarus) (2007) exemplifies the profound stylistic development which followed Chris Ofili’s relocation to the tropical Southern Caribbean island. These canvases are distinguished by vibrant chromatic surfaces that feature elongated and fluid forms. Rendered in oil and charcoal on linen, the present painting envelops the viewer in mesmeric, amorphous swathes of colour. It takes its inspiration from the great Malian photographer Malick Sidibé, whose iconic black and white photograph Christmas Eve, Happy Club (1963) depicts a young man and woman immersed in a joyous, shared dance in Bamako, Mali. Ofili discovered the duo were brother and sister, and here, with their cadmium-red heads gently touching and feet intuitively mirrored in the improvised steps of the dance, their bodies become almost symbiotic. Calvin Tomkins reflected on Ofili’s work of this period: ‘[These] paintings ... are full of colour, with sinuous semi-abstract human forms flowing into each other and into nature’ (C. Tomkins, ‘Into the Unknown’, The New Yorker, 29 September 2014).

Inspired by Trinidad’s intense light and long, mysterious dusks, Ofili’s palette is luminescent. The canvas is electrified with flat, glowing planes of yellow, blue, green and red that are dramatically silhouetted against black oil and charcoal. Form undulates and swells loosely around the figures in a fantastic, psychedelic display, as though itself enraptured by the rhythms of music and the dance. Ofili came to prominence in the 1990s, receiving critical acclaim for his explorations of black British identity and contemporary popular culture. Throughout his career, his use of materials has allowed him to incorporate a distinctly African element into his paintings, playing with racial stereotypes and blurring the sacred and profane. Famous for his trademark use of glitter and elephant dung in his paintings, Ofili was the first Black artist to win the prestigious Turner Prize with an exhibition including his painting No Woman, No Cry in 1998, and went on to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2003. His move to Trinidad led to a more subtle and sensual way of working, charged with the landscape’s rich chromatic atmosphere. ‘I felt ready for the change to happen, and I knew it was happening inside me’, he says; ‘ … I felt I was tapping into a process of looking that was slower’ (C. Ofili, quoted in C. Tomkins, ibid.).

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