August 14, 2006

Elephant dung and monkey business

Anna and I went to the Tate Britain on Saturday, where I was very much taken with Chris Ofili's The Upper Room, a series of thirteen paintings of rhesus macaque monkeys that
glow as intensely as stained glass windows, shimmering with carnivalesque exuberence (and sparkly elephant turds!) while projecting ghost–like traces of the animals on to the floor before them.

Chris Ofili - The Upper Room

Ofili uses identical designs, based on an Andy Warhol print from the '50s, in twelve of the paintings. Yet although identical in fundamental design, the monkeys venerated in these twelve paintings each have twelve very distinct characters through the different colour palates that are employed in each. Some of the monkeys seem to have a playful character, but others are subversive, anarchic, even sinister.

Chris Ofili - The Upper RoomAt the end of the room in the thirteenth painting the Chief Monkey presides like a giant Buddha, resplendent in gold and dripping glitter – excessive, grotesque, simultaneously corporeal and spiritual.

The twelve toast him with their elephant dung goblets in the midst of the frenetic patterns and organic rhythms that boldly swirl and leap around them. A stark contrast to the cloistered calm of The Upper Room.

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