Woven Histories

The National Gallery unveils The Caged Bird’s Song, a new tapestry by Turner Prize-winning artist Chris Ofili (b.1968), on 26 April as part Weaving Magic. This exhibition marks the first time the artist has worked in the medium of tapestry and will include a series of preparatory works on paper in an installation conceived by the artist for the gallery’s Sunley Room. The imagery in the new tapestry reflects Ofili’s ongoing interest in classical mythology and contemporary ‘demigods’, together with the stories, magic and colour of the Trinidadian landscape he inhabits.

Similar to Rubens, Goya and many artists before him who have engaged with this medium, Ofili has been collaborating closely with master weavers to see his design translated into a tapestry. It is being hand-woven by the internationally renowned, Edinburgh-based Dovecot Studios, and has taken two and a half years to complete. Commissioned by the Clothworkers’ Company (a City of London livery company established by Royal Charter in 1528 to oversee the craft of cloth finishing), The Caged Bird’s Song will go on permanent display in Clothworkers’ Hall following the National Gallery’s exhibition of the work.

Coming to prominence in the early 1990s with richly orchestrated paintings combining rippling dots of paint, drifts of glitter, collaged images and elephant dung, Ofili’s seductive art draws on a wide range of sources – including jazz and hip hop music, Blaxploitation movies, the Bible, and the works of artist and poet William Blake. Ofili’s recent works adopt more gestural, pared-down forms, inspired by his relocation to Trinidad, while maintaining a sense of the expansive, dramatic and romantic.

He returns to the National Gallery following Titian: Metamorphosis (2012), in which the artist was asked to respond to Titian’s great mythological paintings, Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon, and Diana and Callisto. Ofili produced new paintings in which the classical world was transposed to Trinidad, where he lives and works. He also designed a related series of costumes and sets for a new ballet performed by the Royal Ballet.

Chris Ofili, Weaving Magic, 26 April – 28 August, National Gallery, London.

More information can be found at: www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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1. Chris Ofili, The Caged Bird’s Song (working detail), 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Dovecot Studios.