Manuel Ocampo has been a vital presence on the international art scene for over twenty-five years, known for fearlessly tackling the taboos and cherished icons of society and of the art world itself. During the 1990s, he was noted for his bold use of a highly charged iconography that combines Catholic imagery with motifs associated with racial and political oppression, creating works that make powerful, often conflicted, statements about the vicissitudes of personal and group identities. His works illustrate, often quite graphically, the psychic wounds that cut deep into the body of contemporary society. They translate the visceral force of Spanish Catholic art, with its bleeding Christs and tortured saints, into our postmodern, more secular era of doubt, uncertainty, and instability. In recent years, his works have featured more mysterious yet emotionally charged motifs that evoke an inner world of haunting visions and nightmares. He often makes use of an eclectic array of quasi-religious, highly idiosyncratic icons featuring teeth, fetuses, sausages, and body parts alongside more traditional Christian motifs.
The process of artistic creation is often a central concern, with many works making ironic commentaries on notions of artistic inspiration, originality, and the anxiety of influence. The artist himself is frequently the subject of parody and self- mockery; sometimes he appears as a buzzard, a kind of cultural scavenger, or assumes slightly deranged alter egos. He frequently includes sly references to the works of other artists, just as in the past he often referred to the work of provincial painters of Catholic altars. Of late, his works have featured more mysterious yet emotionally charged motifs (such as teeth, bones, and fetuses) that evoke an inner world of haunting visions and nightmares.
Ocampo’s first solo exhibition, which took place in Los Angeles in 1988, set the stage for a rapid rise to international prominence. By the early 1990s, his reputation was firmly established, with inclusion in two of the most important European art events, Documenta IX (1992) and the Venice Biennale (1993). Also in the early 1990s, he participated in the seminal exhibition, Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1992), as well as Individual Realities in the California Art Scene at the Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (1991), and Jean-Michel Basquiat & Manuel Ocampo at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle (1994). He has subsequently participated in numerous museum exhibitions and biennials around the world, including the biennials of Gwangju (1997), Lyon (2000), Berlin (2001), Venice (2001) and Seville (2004). Ocampo’s work was recently included in the exhibition, Possession III, at the Lancaster Gallery at Coventry University, Coventry, UK (2014), in a solo exhibition at the Carré Sainte Anne, Montpelier, France (2013), and in the Asia-Pacific Triennial, Brisbane, Australia (2012–2013). In 2015-16, his work showed in the traveling exhibition, Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, at the Montclair Art Museum. In 2017 Ocampo represented the Philippines in the 57th Venice Biennial.