5 Feb 2010
I saw the Chris Ofili exhibition at Tate Britain on Wednesday. I didn't know anything about this artist, so when I entered the first room and noticed elephant dung on his paintings I was slightly shocked! But I was immediately blown away by the stunning colours. When you go up close, you can see layer upon layer of dots in vibrant colours. Close up shot of texture:
I've since learnt that Chris Ofili started using elephant dung in his paintings when he was in Zimbabwe. He says, "[Using dungballs is] a way of raising the paintings up from the ground and giving them a feeling that they've come from the earth rather than simply being hung on a wall." [Quote from exhibition leaflet]. When I read this, it made much more sense to me.
It's a large exhibition with 7 rooms in total and my favourite was the Upper Room which takes you on an extraordinary sensory experience. The paintings are displayed in a specially constructed vault designed in collaboration with architect David Adjaye.
To enter the vault you first pass through a long corridor which is completely dark apart from some illuminated openings along the floor. It's quite scary walking in the dark but the lights entice you further into the space.
When I reached the end of the corridor and turned the corner, I was amazed that the entire space was clad in beautiful timber - floor, walls and ceiling. The texture was lovely, as it felt smooth but also quite raw.
The lighting is exquisite. Each painting is illuminated by a single directional light from above, and it is this light that shines through the openings behind the paintings into the corridor. The paintings literally glow against the dark timber backdrop, and the light is reflected in a pool at the foot of each canvas. The conditions in the timber vault really bring out the richness of the paintings.
I feel I really learnt something at this exhibition, and not only about a new artist, but also about the design of the exhibition. I should visit Tate Britain more often as it is directly opposite my college and I have free access as a student!
[Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]