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Controversy in Painting: Crude Legends

Chris Ofili

Chris Ofili is an English painter and sculptor. In 1998, he was the first black artist to win the Turner Prize, and soon after, in 1999 his work came into controversy when New York City Mayor Giuliani was offended by his elephant dung depiction of the Virgin Mary, which was traveling in an exhibit from the Saatchi Gallery. Before this he had won a scholarship to travel to Zimbabwe, where he studied the cave paintings which influence his work. His elephant dung sculptures particularly fascinate me because they remind me of Cuban religious Santero traditions, where a relic is made from found material and sculpted into a symbolic representation of a divinity. Ofili’s often include a round head sculpted from dung, his own dreadlocks, cut off and applied as hair, and human teeth. The dung objects sometimes are used as supports which prop his paintings up, encorporating both 2 and 3 dimensions. Many of his works stem from an interest in the mutual decay of the spiritual and the profane. He now resides in Trinidad where he works out of a small cottage studio, producing 4-5 paintings a year which are sold in the hundreds of thousands (typically between 400,000-500,000; as of 2016).


Balthus was born in Paris. His father was an art historian and his mother a painter. He is known for being rather enigmatic and private about his life, ta-taing any biographical queries and instead drawing the public eye away from himself and on to his art. He began to paint as a youngster, and at the tender age of 11 (one of his future models in Paris, Theresé, would spend much time with the painter at this age herself) he was encouraged by his mother’s lover, Rainer Marie Rilke, to put together a book of his ink drawings. He produced Mitsou, the story of a boy and his cat, a collection of 40 ink paintings/drawings that illustrate a boy’s losing and finding his favorite furred friend. Early on, he did many portraits of his friends, including Joan Miro, and designed costumes for plays by another acquaintance, Albert Camus. His eye remained steadily on painting figures, many of them young girls, daydreaming in solitude, accompanied by their feline companions. Unwavering in his classicism, his works were collected by Picasso, and at the time of the show, he was the only living artist to be featured in the Louvre. He died in 2001, and at his funeral Bono preformed. The President of France was also in attendance. David Bowie called him the last legendary painter in a 1994 volume of Modern Painters.

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