Chris Ofili has just unveiled his first tapestry – The Caged Bird’s Song – at the National Gallery. It’s on show in the Sunley Room until the end of August before it takes up the place it was commissioned for at the Clothworkers Company hall in the City of London.
It took nearly three years for the tapestry to be created by the expert weavers at Dovecot, the weaving studio in Edinburgh. They were challenged by Ofili to ‘weave water’. And they have somehow, miraculously, conjured the effect of water in wool, translating a series of charming watercolour works into an entirely different medium but retaining the spirit of the original. You can see where the pigment has puddled and darkened at the edges, there’s a glorious fluidity to the piece.
The tapestry is a triptych – one large piece flanked by two smaller ones. The central image conjures a feeling of luxurious romance as a couple relax by a pool with a waterfall tumbling down nearby and the horizon of the blue sea beyond. A mysterious ‘cocktail waiter’ pours a green tincture into the woman’s glass and it bubbles up.
The tapestry is complemented by an exhibition of watercolour sketches showing the evolution of the work. Visitors to the Sunley Room will feel entirely immersed in the work because the room has been entirely painted in monochrome images of mythical and contemporary ‘demigods’. It’s a charming show.