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Mono rojo was first exhibited at Ofili’s major solo exhibition at Victoria Miro, London in 2002, Freedom One Day. The exhibition indicated the shift in Ofili’s art, to more formalised yet sensual, high keyed paintings with more clearly defined subjects and a move away from repetitive detail and rhythmic patterning. In place of collage and drifts of glitter trapped behind and between layers of translucent resin and plays on black African stereotypes appeared sophisticated drawing and evocative figures with their own narratives, albeit set amongst interlocking patterns of lozenge and leaf shapes, fields of dots, sunbeams and auras.
One of the two bodies of work suggested profane love set in the tropics and envisioned thorugh a symbolist perspective. These paintings were symbolically colour keyed to Marcus Garvey's design for a pan-African flag: red for the blood that was shed, black for the people who died, green for the land that was lost.
Mono Rojo was one of 13 paintings in a suite of which British art critic Adrian Searle wrote in The Guardian ‘was certainly the bravest, and one of the most original works I have seen by a painter for years.’ Ofili collaborated with architect David Adjaye to construct a large room, with a side-corridor entrance, lit at intervals at floor level in which the works were seen. The corridor and space were constructed of walnut-veneered plywood - floors, walls with curved corners and ceiling, even the three benches in the room. The space itself was semi-dark, with six paintings of monkeys floor lit on each side wall, all composed to face a single larger image of a golden monkey at the far end.
Mono rojo is one of a series of 12 paintings of monkeys, each one slightly different, the 13th painting being differently composed golden monkey. All derived from an Andy Warhol drawing from 1957, they are depicted wearing a turban, a little jacket, and what Adrian Serle describes as ‘a benign sad-eyed monkey smile that is almost sinister’. In one hand they each hold a goblet, and above the goblet hangs a lump of elephant dung. The 12 paintings include monkeys of different colours: Mono Rojo, Mono Marron, Mono Negro and Mono Blanco - red monkey, brown monkey, black monkey and white monkey (mono is Spanish for monkey, and is here also a play on monochrome). The culiminating 13th painting, Mono Oro, shows a figures that is part chimp, part Buddha, part Christ, who clutches a vessel in both hands, an elephant turd with a golden disc atop his turban.
Mono rojo is then part of a group of paintings engendering connotations of the 12 disciples, the Last Supper and less specifically ideas of where the secular meets the profound. The monkey with its excessively curly tail is set in a labyrinthine cosmos of stars, plant life, flowers, arcs, graphic patterns and paint dribbles. The painting’s high art origins also contain the intensity of “outsider” art, the frenetic energy of a Van Gogh or rituals of Carnival. Both humorous and disturbing, this complex painting cannot help stir up thoughts on belief, obsessions, hierarchies and origins and the role of symbolism in painting today.
- Mono Rojo
- Production date
- acrylic, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins and elephant dung on canvas
- 1825 x 1219 mm
- Credit line
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, on loan from a private collection through Victoria Miro, London
- Accession no
- Copying restrictions apply
- International Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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