Skip to content

About the Artist

Philip Ofili was born in Lagos, Nigeria, the fourth child of seven siblings. His parents, Paul and Martina Ofili, were the first to recognize and nurture his fascination with making paper shapes and objects out of discarded paper. In time, Philip kept himself busy by making interesting marks on paper with crayons, colored pencils and whatever might be on hand within the house and playground to convey and share his early childhood excitement and wonder.

As a kid, Philip was quick to sense and imbibe the dedication and passion his parents brought to bear on their various callings, no matter the challenge. Ofili’s father of blessed memory was a civil engineer while his mother was a professional teacher who took up dress making as a second career.

At a young age of three, his parents decided to relocate to Benin City to help build the infrastructure of then newly created Mid-West State, which makes up present day Edo and Delta States in Nigeria. Philip Ofili grew up in Benin-City, typically known for its rich cultural heritage and was exposed to various forms of traditional Bini bronze and wood work. In addition, several visits to Asaba, the ancestral home of his parents also exposed him to the customs and art of the Ibo people, a major ethnic group in Nigeria.

Philip had his elementary and high school education in distinguished Catholic schools in Benin City where art lessons were his favorite subject. Philip speaks of these classes as being very rewarding and inspirational towards developing his visual language to the admiration of his peers. As a student in high school, he saw and enjoyed the work of pioneer contemporary Nigerian artist Ben Enweonwu. The impact of this experience played a crucial role in shaping his sensibility and choice of being a professional artist. Philip proceeded to further his Fine Art education at Auchi Polytechnic and graduated with a Higher Diploma in Painting in 1982.

Post graduation, Ofili served in the National Youth Service Corp as a Fine Art teacher at Government College in Owerri, Nigeria for a year. He went on to set up a private Graphic Design & Offset printing firm, named Paltina Inc. Business for this company grew under his leadership and his active participation in the world of graphic design from concept to finish rekindled his passion in painting with fresh ways of seeing. He followed his passion for painting, relentlessly reaching into his innermost being to synthesize his life experiences into his art. Ofili’s work emphasizes shapes and patterns unified by exuberant colors that express movement, ambiguous space and a sense of mystery. His work has been shown in solo and group exhibits nationwide in Nigeria and are in many public and private collections including Didi Museum, Lagos.

A major turning point occurred in his art as he embarked on a journey to the United States in 1997 in quest of expanding his artistic horizon, not fully knowing how this objective would unfold. He traveled to San Francisco and Chicago, then settled in Philadelphia where he attended the Graduate School of Fine Art, University of Pennsylvania. Ofili says the economic hardship of putting himself through School, while holding a part time job to pay the bills, pales in comparison to the unique forum to mingle with artists of diverse backgrounds and a privilege to study under America’s best and brightest artists such as Andrew Forge, John Moore, Robert Slutzky, Susana Jacobson, Barbara Grossman and Hitoshi Nakazato in an environment of mutual respect that unleashed creativity. Ofili earned an M.F.A. in Painting and Printmaking from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000. He received the Perkin’s Center for the Arts Juror’s Award in 2001 for artistic excellence. Ofili currently lives and works in Saint Louis.