Chris Ofili portrait by Malick Sidibe in Oct. 6, 2014 issue of The New Yorker


IN ADVANCE OF CHRIS OFILI’S first solo museum show in the United States, New Yorker writer Calvin Tompkins traveled to Trinidad where the artist lives and works. “Into the Unknown,” his comprehensive and revealing profile opens in a “dilapidated white cottage on Lady Chancellor Road, about ten minutes from downtown Port of Spain,” the three-room studio where the artist made most of the new paintings for his forthcoming retrospective at the New Museum.

Ofili has been nursing one painting in particular, “Lime Bar,” since April. The nine-foot-tall canvas, featuring a bartender squeezing limes in the background and a couple seated at a table in the foreground, is personal. We learn later that Ofili tends bar during film screenings at his friend and fellow artist Peter Doig’s studio on the island and that the people sitting at the table in the painting are his friend, the architect David Adjaye, and his wife, Ashley Shaw-Scott.

In the clubby, far-from-diverse worlds of art and design, Ofili and Adjaye have made formidable strides and found a common bond.

Throughout the article, Tomkins unpacks Ofili’s story. Born in Manchester, England, to Nigerian parents in 1968, both his personal narrative and artistic development have benefited from important creative figures who have inspired and influenced his life, Adjaye among them.

Ofili visited Trinidad for the first time in 2000 with Doig. The two met and became friends at the Chelsea College of Art where Doig was doing graduate studies and Ofili was an undgrad. The work of Malik Sidibe has captivated Ofili and one of the Malian photographers 1963 images appears in a number of his paintings and drawings, as well as a sculptural frieze in his home. (The New Yorker arranged for Ofili to meet Sidibe, who photographed the artist in his Bamako studio for the story.)

Tompkins and Ofili visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York together, where the artist declares the work of Jasper Johns “chilling,” adding that, “He’s certainly one of the great painters.” The writer has known Johns since the 1960s and takes Ofili to visit him at his home Connecticut. The two artists connect and at one point laugh heartily over a private exchange.


“Lime Bar” by Chris Ofili, on view in his exhibition “Night and Day” at the New Museum, features David Adjaye and his wife in silhouette. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine (image added Nov. 3, 2014)


It is the longstanding friendship with Adjaye, however, that leaps off of the page. Stars of their generation, nuggets demonstrating the depth of the relationship between the internationally regarded artist and intellectually driven, global architect are woven throughout the profile:

    “[The] Ofilis feel that Trinidad is their home, and they are building two new houses there, both of them designed by the architect David Adjaye, Ofili’s closest friend.”

    “Winning the [Turner] prize brought [Ofili] national attention and twenty thousand pounds, which went into the town house that he and David Adjaye were renovating in London’s East End. Adjaye, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, had studied architecture at the Royal College when Ofili was there.”

“It wasn’t like having a client,” Adjaye told Tomkins [about Ofili]. “It was this fantastic dialogue, a kind of sharing”—and it developed into a lasting friendship.”

    “[Ofili] didn’t expect the paintings to stay together as a single work—’Who would want to buy thirteen paintings on the same theme?’ he said—but he wanted them to be shown together, and he and David Adjaye spent several weeks transforming a room on the second floor of Victoria Miro’s new gallery into a chapel-like environment.”

    “Ofili and Adjaye worked together a year later, in Venice, on the installation of a new series of large red-green-and-black paintings that Ofili had done for the British pavilion at the 2003 Biennale. The subject was an idealized narrative of a man and woman in an African Eden, a paradise of tropical foliage and romantic ardor.”

    “Ofili was the best man at Adjaye’s wedding, this year, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the two figures sitting together in the ‘Lime Bar’ painting are Adjaye and his bride, Ashley Shaw-Scott.”

davidadjaye_team_portraitHARVARD AWARDED THE EVER-PROMINENT Adjaye (at left) the W.E.B. Du Bois medal this week. He was joined onstage at the university’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research by fellow recipients artist and director Steve McQueen, Maya Angelou (posthumous), Harry Belafonte, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Shonda Rhimes, Harvey Weinstein and Oprah Winfrey.

The Ghanaian-born, London-based architect designed the Hutchins Center’s Cooper art gallery which opened this fall. He also has new and current projects in Harlem, New Orleans, Beirut, Doha, Lagos, London and Takoradi, Ghana, and is overseeing construction of his largest commission to date: the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open its doors in 2015.

Last year, Tompkins profiled Adjaye for The New Yorker, charting his career trajectory in anticipation of the historic museum’s construction. Similar to his Ofili profile, the article, “A Sense of Place,” recounts the close association and collaborative nature of the relationship between the architect and artist.

Beyond Ofili, Adjaye’s portfolio reflects his affinity for working with artists and the ways in which the worlds of art and design are increasingly complementary. He designed Elektra House, a residence for artist couple Giorgio Sadotti and Elizabeth Wright in London; a four-story studio for photographer Lorna Simpson and her artist husband James Casebere in Brooklyn, his first American project; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver; and Richard Avedon’s 2012 exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York.

Next, the architect is partnering with Okwui Enwezor, director of the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich on structural design for the Venice Biennale in 2015. Nigererian-born Enwezo is artistic director of the international event, the first African charged with the role. On Sept. 19, a retrospective of Adjaye’s work opened at the Art Institute in Chicago. The exhibition, the first to examine the architect’s projects, is curated by Enwezo and features a full-scale replica of Elektra House.

The affiliation with Ofili trumps them all and it’s a two way street. “I got the bug,” Ofili confides to Tompkins in the Adjaye profile. “Outside of painting, it’s my main indulgence, making buildings.” CT


IMAGE: At left, David Adjaye | Courtesy Adjaye Associates


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