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Chris Ofili's Frustrating, Profound "Paradise Lost"

To approach a Chris Ofili painting is to make peace with one’s own smallness. For the last twenty or so years, the British artist has accumulated entire universes on his canvases, some of which almost reach a museum ceiling. In “Afrodizzia,” from 1996, the heads of icons such as James Brown, Diana Ross, and Nelson Mandela, cut out from photographs, float glamorously, like planets, in a swirling cloud of multicolored dots. Ofili tends to use found materials—beads, glitter, sequins, and, most famously, elephant dung—to decorate his allegorical images. He has painted Eden in red, green, and black, the chromatic grammar of black liberation, large and lush. When, a couple of years ago, he created a set for the Royal Ballet, the project required an entire warehouse. “Did I really paint something that big?” he said when the curtain rose on “Metamorphosis: Titian 2012,” at the Royal Opera House in London, the city where he lived full time until 2005. He drew the backdrop with a stick of charcoal inside a length of bamboo. “When I was drawing the big orange moon I found that I was drawing the big curved line of it for about a minute,” he told Charlotte Higgins, of the Guardian. “I realised I had never drawn a continuous line for that length of time.”...

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