He has been dubbed the 'Rembrandt of Dung' and caused more controversy than any painter since Marcel Duchamp exhibited his infamous 'Nude Descending a Staircase' in 1913 at the Armory Show in New York. Postcolonial nostalgia, back-to-Africa yearnings and notions of exotic otherness mixed with 'gangsta rap' and East-London slang provide the backbone for the paintings of Chris Ofili. Born in Manchester of Nigerian parents, Ofili took a scholarship trip to Zimbabwe in 1992, where he discovered his African roots and opened a personal cultural conflict: What does it mean to be black in a predominantly white community? Rather than trying to answer this with a strong political statement in the tedious conceptual style of the 1970's, Ofili developed a funky and humourous post-modern picture style with a wide range of cultural and popular references.
The works, which are built up from multiple layers of paint, resin and collage, incorporate stereotypical ethnical labels with Biblical imagery and pornographic magazines. They shimmer, sparkle and shine in a retro '70's colour scheme and sometimes even glow in the dark. Protruding from the densely patterned surface are his trademark boulders of resin-coated elephant dung, which also support his canvases like the ball-and-claw feet on old furniture.
'Flower Heads' (1996) is a piece of real Africa, fused to a Western surface, the ultimate in ugliness in collision with conventional beauty, and complicating visions of both. Ofili's unique contribution to painting and his ability to challenge the viewer have awarded him the 1998 Turner Prize at Tate Britain and made him the most publicised black artist since Jean-Michel Basquiat.