Nick Hackworth

Chris Ofili Victoria, Miro Gallery

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

In his first solo show in London since winning the Turner Prize in 1998, Chris Ofili unveils a body of work that is more self-assured and attractive than anything he has yet produced. That fact is in itself notable, marking him out as the only winner of recent times whose work has actually improved since being awarded the prize. On offer in the exhibition are both a vision of paradise and a peculiar yet enthralling reconstruction of Christ’s Last Supper.

The four large paintings in the ground-floor gallery are part of an ongoing project depicting Afronirvarna (also the title of one of the works) using a palette restricted to black, green and red, the colours associated with African Unity since the 1920s. In this version of heaven, naively drawn black figures, their forms made up of a multitude of dots, frolic amid dense backgrounds of abstract patterns and semi-abstracted organic forms. In Triple Beam Dreamer, a black female nude endowed with ample charms lies in the foliage eating a banana. Meanwhile, in Afromantics, a smartly dressed couple seen in profile hold hands beneath a shining star, at the centre of which there proudly protrudes Ofili’s calling card, a ball of varnished and painted elephant dung.

In the upstairs gallery, the atmosphere is altogether more mysterious. The once expansive, open space has been transformed. A narrow corridor leads to a dimly-lit, wood-panelled room, with benches running down the centre, in which 13 paintings are installed. Twelve, for the disciples, are of identical size, and each depicts the same figure of a monkey in profile, above which floats the requisite ball of elephant turd. The 12 monkeys flank the long sides of the room, six on either side, drawing one’s eye in processional order to the larger painting hanging at the end, the Mono Oro, the Golden Monkey. Here, Christ has become a monkey of regal aspect who stares at you face-on, his skin of metallic paint shimmering in the spotlight.

In both series of paintings, Ofili succeeds in creating works of decorative beauty and visual richness. He has also moved away from the obvious parody of the racial assumptions that might have informed his audience, parody that manifested itself in the use of characters like the ludicrous black hero Captain Shit, who appeared in various works of his around a decade ago. These paintings seem altogether more at ease with themselves.

Until 3 August: 020 7336 8109.