Chris Ofili - Modern & Contemporary Art: Evening & Day Sale London Thursday, June 27, 2024 | Phillips
  • “I was trying to push the red as far as it needed to go in certain areas before it needed to flip to a green. It’s a bit like when you are listening to a great harp solo in an Alice Coltrane track, where the strings are really gliding along through the track, and then Pharaoh Sanders might play a horn that kind of interrupts things, and then it falls back into the harp.”
    —Chris Ofili

    Closely related to the slightly earlier Third Eye Vision, now held in the permanent collection of the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, British artist Chris Ofili’s 2002 Triple Eye Vision is a densely textured and formally inventive work. Painstaking in its application, the highly patterned surface combines glitter, beadlike dots of acrylic and oils, coats of resin, map pins, paper collage, and elephant dung, developing the formal language that the artist first explored in iconic early pieces such as the controversial The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), and the emotionally charged No Woman No Cry (1998), both now held in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Britian respectively. Unlike the chromatic diversity of these earlier works however, Ofili here employs a palette deliberately restricted to the red, black, and green of the pan-African flag, a device first employed by the artist in his 1997 painting Black Paranoia and conceptually developed in the works related to his celebrated presentation for the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003, Within Reach.

    Within Reach and Black Subjectivity


    Designed by Jamaican political activist Marcus Garvey and adopted in 1920 as a symbol of African and diasporic identity and solidarity, the triband of red, black, and green represents the blood, skin, and lush natural resources that at once unites people of African descent and identifies the historical targets of colonial violence and exploitation. By restricting his palette to these colours, Ofili makes a powerful statement about the politics of representation and identity, and of his intention to reclaim a narrative space within which to explore themes of Black subjectivity, liberation, and love unconditioned by an exoticising or exploitative gaze.

    “Modernism and modernity for Ofili refer to two paradigms of an exclusivist canon, the sites where the black subject disappears. For a figurative painter of African descent, the allegorical implications of modernist ambivalence towards the black subject, except as a figure of excess and the improper, hinges on several historical and conceptual issues: the articulation of the proper, the naming of the unnameable, the bringing of the invisible to visibility and the seeking of social redress.”
    —Okwui Enwezor

    Kaleidoscopic in its fractured, repeating symmetry, Triple Eye Vision evokes the potent symbol of the all-seeing Third Eye which, although typically featured within various Eastern spiritual practices, has a varied and complex history spanning millennia. Itself a symbol of the persistence of diasporic identity and tradition, the Third Eye appears across geographically distinct regions, moving between Buddhist and Hindu regions of Asia and evolving from its roots within in Ancient African culture as the ‘Eye of Horus’ to more contemporary iconographic treatments via the movement of diasporic peoples. Representing a heightened state of consciousness and enlightenment, the Third Eye is typically depicted on the forehead as a gateway into the mind and higher consciousness. Ofili’s positioning of this motif in the centre of the composition here is significant, the Third Eye reimagined as the visual and spiritual centre from which the repeating patterns of lush foliage and overall sense of geometric order emanate. Importantly in this respect, the artist has rendered the centralised Third Eye motif in elephant dung, elevating its material and thematic significance and emphasising its place at the heart of Ofili’s artistic project. 


    Detail of the Present Work

    A hallmark of the artist’s practice, Ofili first began to incorporate the unusual material in his work after his first trip to Zimbabwe in 1992, where he was struck by the stark differences between his rigid formal training in British art schools and the energy and force embedded in the natural landscape he found there. As a totemic piece of that landscape, the elephant dung introduces an explosive energy to Ofili’s compositions. As the artist describes: ‘I don’t think there is any ‘beauty and ugliness’, just different degrees of response to something – different degrees of energy […] in some of the paintings I’ve made in the past, I was trying to put the two together in order to measure them up […] and see if the paint could be as energetic, as powerful.’i


    In its limited palette, distinctive iconography, and the powerful symbolism of the artist’s favoured materials, Triple Eye Vision offers a compelling vision of African pride, rediscovered through a rich interplay of spiritual, political, and art historical referents. This is a utopian vision, a place ‘re-imagined, a landscape of the mind, free for dreaming, visually recalled, as from another place – from elsewhere; ‘Africa’, not remembered but dreamt in its translated ‘Afro’ idiom.’ii Ofili realised this vision on an immersive scale in his contemporaneous and critically acclaimed contribution to the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003, where he worked in collaboration with architect David Adjaye to transform the interior of the British Pavilion into a lushly textured world bathed in the same intense hues of red, black, and green used to such lyrical effect in the present work. Anchored in the symolism of Garvey's pan-African flag, and its powerful message of freedom, pride, and political agency, Ofili reimagined the space of the British Pavillion as one of Black pride and potential, signposting the crossing into this new, imaginative universe with his own take on the Union Jack, reimagined in bands of red, black, and green. Hung over the entrance to Tate Britain on the occasion of Ofili’s 2010 retrospective, Union Black now resides in Tate’s permanent collection, working in dialogue with paintings such as Triple Eye Vision to reinforce the artist's own vision of solidarity, community, and shared cultural history. 


    Tine Tempah on Chris Ofili | TateShots


    Collector’s Digest


    • Winner of the 1998 Turner Prize, British artist Chris Ofili has exhibited widely since coming to prominence in the early 1990s. In the past two decades, Ofili has had significant international exhibitions including at Tate Britain in London, the New Museum in New York. The artist also represented Britain at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 Biennale, just the year after the present work’s execution.

    • Limited to the colours of the Pan-African flag, Triple Eye Vision signals its relationship to a significant contemporaneous series from the early 2000s, crystallised in Ofili’s ambitious Within Reach presentation for the British Pavilion at the 50th Venice Biennale.

    • The present work is closely related to the slightly earlier Third Eye Vision, now held in the permanent collection of the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis.



    i Chris Ofili, quoted in ‘In Search of the Real Me’, Tate Magazine, 1 January 2010, online.  

    ii Stuart Hall, ‘Chris Ofili in Paradise: Dreaming in Afro’, Victoria Miro, 2003, online

    • Provenance

      Victoria Miro, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2003

    • Exhibited

      Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia, Versus Rodin: bodies across space and time, 4 March–2 July 2017, pp. 181, 224 (illustrated)
      Brisbane, Gallery of Modern Art, organised by Queensland Art Gallery, 21st Century: Art in the First Decade, 18 December 2010–25 April 2011, no. 140, p. 280 (illustrated, p. 80)
      Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Something Living, 19 August 2017–11 February 2018

    • Literature

      Cavepainting: Peter Doig, Chris Ofili, Laura Owens, exh. cat., Santa Monica Museum, Santa Monica, 2002, n.p. (progress view illustrated)

Property of a Distinguished Private Collection


Triple Eye Vision

signed, titled and dated '"Triple eye vision" 2000 - 2002 Chris Ofili Chris Ofili' on the overlap; signed, titled and dated '"Triple eye vision" 2000 - 2002 Chris Ofili Chris Ofili' on the stretcher
acrylic, oil, paper collage, glitter, polyester resin, map pins and elephant dung on linen, with two elephant dung supports
243.8 x 182.8 cm (95 7/8 x 71 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2000 - 2002.

Full Cataloguing

£500,000 - 700,000 ‡♠

Contact Specialist

Louise Simpson
Associate Specialist
+44 7887 473 568

Modern & Contemporary Art: Evening & Day Sale

London Auction 27 June 2024