Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Weave of Absence; @Thestandardarts in Association withAdmirable Work Went into a Tapestry Copy of a Chris Ofili Watercolour, but It Has No Visual Identity of Its Own

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Weave of Absence; @Thestandardarts in Association withAdmirable Work Went into a Tapestry Copy of a Chris Ofili Watercolour, but It Has No Visual Identity of Its Own

Article excerpt

Byline: Matthew Collings

EXHIBITION OF THE WEEK CHRIS OFILI: WEAVING MAGIC National Gallery, WC2 WEAVING Magic is a show based on a tapestry created by professional weavers using a watercolour by Chris Ofili as a template. It also includes his supporting sketches, shown on their own next to the main space.

The final watercolour, titled The Caged Bird Sings (paraphrasing Maya Angelou's autobiographical novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), is only a couple of feet wide, whereas the tapestry is several yards across. It is displayed in the National's Sunley Room, a high-walled large square space. There is nothing else in there except a painted mural (in greys) that covers every inch of the available wall surface from floor to ceiling.

The show is a bit boring in terms of Ofili's career as a whole, though there is some interest in seeing visual ideas developed in different stages. The imagery of the mural (executed by set painters overseen by Ofili and based on drawings supplied by him) is quite funny. Sexy giant gods, nude and semi-nude, who often seem to be transgender (figures with moustaches and beards and hairy chests, but also voluptuous hips, tiny waists and globe-like breasts) sway and lie around in a leafy setting.

The tapestry was woven in Edinburgh at the Dovecot Studio, and took two-anda-half years to complete. It was commissioned by the Clothworkers' Company, a Livery company founded 500 years ago in the City of London for the purpose of promoting the craft of cloth-finishing. When the National's exhibition finishes the tapestry will be housed permanently in the company's dining room.

The trouble is it follows Ofili's watercolour a bit too slavishly, so it looks radiant from a distance but close-up has no visual identity of its own. There is no sense of one medium answering another with its own visual logic, just a photo-like imitation that lets them both down.

An air of pointlessness extends to the whole display: a lot of charm with no convincing centre. It is a shame to be disappointed by the weavers' labour, and indeed the obvious sincerity of everyone involved in this project. But artistically there is very little to sing about.

Ofili's imagery is a play on mythical landscapes, with lounging gods entertaining themselves, as seen often in western painting. Titian, for example, specialised in painterly transcriptions of Ovid's poetry. He conjured up sensuous imagery but the literary context made it respectable. When the National Gallery showed some of these Titians a few years ago Ofili was invited to respond to them, and the current exhibition is an extension of that strategy.

He transposes classicism to a jungle setting. A god in the sky pours a cocktail down for two lovers in a glade. …

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