Chris Ofili was born on 10th October 1968 in Manchester. Ofili attended St. Pius X High school. He later advanced his learning in Xaverian College. His art foundation was built at Tameside College in Great Manchester. Ofili furthered his studies in London, at the Chelsea Art School from 1988-1991.
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He is well renowned due to his unique eye for art especially depicted by his paintings. Ofili is a turner prize British winner well known for his artworks that cite aspects of his Nigerian customs and tradition. Currently, he is based in Trinidad. Afrodizzia, one of Ofili’s paintings was signed, titled and produced in 1996. It was executed on linen and its approximate size is 243.8 by 182.9 cm.
Afrodizzia is a painting full of life done on a canvas sealed up with layers of different medium like elephant dung, paint and cut out photos. The frame is unique as it rests comfortably on rolls of elephant dung. By incorporation of this unique material-elephant dung, he brings in the aspect of African culture tracing back to his roots in Nigeria.
The composition explores the black man’s experience as the surfaces are patched with tiny heads of figures that possess Afros. Afro is a hairstyle that was well embraced by the black man’s race in the 1970’s and became a traditional emblem.
The winding rows and incoherent lines of brilliant colors are the key elements of art incorporated in this art piece. They create a feeling of systemic and arrangement in the overall structure of the painting. The semi-transparent ponds of resin create a blend hiding some heads and color.
Through the cloud of glitters of oil paint and the resin, the left out heads denote the black man’s society where the lower class people were held with less respect as compared to the upper class people (Doy 32). The use of color, line and dots aim to bring in authenticity of Ofili’s painting, Afrodizzia. Within its composition, elephant dung – one of Ofili’s trademarks has been applied.
The painting rests upon two balls of the elephant dung well endowed with color. Color as an element of art brings in illusions of light. Color is well used to create fields. The painting rests on two balls that have been decorated with colored pins.
Black color represents the black community which traces Ofili’s, roots. An additional six balls of dung are fixed to the canvas surface with five of them bearing the names Miles Davis, Diana Ross, James Brow, Cassius Clay and Tito Jackson – all black men. Slotting in of these black men brings in cultural significance depicted by the bold black color.
The decorative dots technique and colored pattern technique incorporated in Ofili’s painting have helped him create three dimensional elements. The lumps of elephant dung into the medium he uses (canvas) serves as bases on which he displays the artwork and compositional elements.
It brings in depth, yet another element of art. Creation of depth in paintings is a challenge that most painters take up eventually bringing in the feeling of the world in three dimensions. Ofili’s use of elephant dung balls and collaged images bring in an illusion of depth (Doy 46).
Another technique used is line as an element of art. Though the images appear abstract at the first glance, the lines come in and create a real yet natural character of the paintings. The lines then later take up the form of patterns. The pattern is rather busy with no emphases at the centre but rather patterns of images brought about by the use of lines.
Lines seem to also give an outline or border to the painting. The curved lines along the borders of the painting are graceful creating smooth flow of the eyes. This unique use of line creates rhythm which enables the viewers to run the eyes gracefully from one point to another.
The border lines also bring in a sense of ‘security’ to the content in the artwork. The images’ outlines are also done through use of lines. This is thus a technique that cannot go unnoticed.
His meticulous nature makes him renowned for rich portions of layers, variety in use of media which includes balls of elephant dung that interposes the canvas creating support at the bottom, acrylics or oil paints, resin, collages images of cutouts from magazines and map pins.
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The canvas used is a medium that allows the acrylics to show well and enhance the feel of the texture of the end product. The black icons are painted in acrylic over the fixed collaged elements. Ofili later fixed the pins into the elephant dung using an adhesive to secure the linen.
The crafty use of elephant dung brings in the theme of afro-centricity which celebrates and embraces the African culture and heritage. His canvasses denote an urge to embrace the uniqueness of the black culture. The awesome painting is built up in layers consisting of cut outs of heads of men with afros. It is classical due to the well blended variety of media.
Texture is another valuable element for an artist to consider as it engages another factor away from sight. It may be tactile or visual. Tactile involves the sense of touch while visual involves how our eyes perceive the artwork.
Ofili in his painting, Afrodizzia, was able to incorporate this element through his use of elephant dung and cutouts from magazines. This incorporation of texture helps stimulate the viewer’s tactile nature. It is used skillfully to bring in contrast, arouse the viewer’s senses and bring in a composition with harmony, unity and variety (Doy 15).
A contextual factor related to the painting afrodizzia is that contrasting colors once well used can create a vibrant full of life artworks. If overused, they could bring in confusion in the artwork.
Key knowledge of elements and principles of art and design is paramount in the interpretation of artworks. Having a clear understanding of the two enables the viewer to interpret art pieces well grasping the theme, meaning and intention of the painter.
Some viewers feel deeply lost in the interpretation of Afrodizzia. While some viewers feel Ofili tried to incorporate Africa’s lifestyle in his work, others feel that the use of elephant dung depicts primitiveness and lacks creativity as depicted by his cutouts from magazines.
The study diamond (technique, effect, context and meaning) in the artwork helps the viewer understand the painting. There is flow right from the way it is accomplished to the result, the context in which it is produced and what is meant to be conveyed.
The four factors relate and when well thought of help in coming up with unique yet appreciated artworks. The artist can never go wrong with the study diamond.
Doy Gen. Black visual culture: Modernity and postmodernity. London: I.B. Tauric & Co. 2001.