A group of female runners complete with all the typical paraphernalia – caps, earphones, water bottle, Nike swooshes on their trainers – are caught in mid-flight, and their features reduced down to cartoon-like images and color. It’s classic Julian Opie. Running Women represents an everyday occurrence, distilled down and given a new dynamic by becoming an amalgamation of different moving figures.
Opie does the same thing with Walkers in Melbourne, based on photographs of people taken both in the city and on the beach. He has described it as a kind of fashion parade. This time, the figures appear on a frieze, reminiscent of those classical friezes in which warriors graced the sides of temples and so on. They are moving pieces frozen on a frieze so to speak. Opie has also created statuettes of similar walking figures.
Opie takes traditional genres and gives them the 21st-century treatment. Nowhere is this more clear than in his landscapes of the Cornish coast, a favorite part of the country for him. Typical is Gribbin Head, a series of four digital prints mounted on glass. They represent beautiful scenes that he has digitized from photos, manipulated, and minimalized to create an impression of harmony and tranquility that he has experienced. As he puts it, “a view of a view”.
Julian Opie has used the same process in a series of nylon banners offering dyed images from photographs taken on a train trip from Seoul to Busan in South Korea. This time, there’s a sense of speed reflected in the paddy fields, mountains, and rivers that flashed by on his journey. A knowledge and respect for art history permeates the show, and his decision to print the images on translucent banners rather than on canvas is a nod to his love of Japanese silk-screen prints.
In complete contrast to the rural idyll are the cityscapes embodied in a set of five sculptures entitled Modern Towers. Spray-painted on wood with a smooth, plastic-like finish, the works are geometrically lined impressions of skyscrapers that shimmer in the reflections of the sky and from the shadows of adjacent towers. They are not based on actual buildings, but the nature of the rectangles reminded me of London’s Canary Wharf. He has drawn similar rectangular shapes for Office Windows, and sets of screenprints. Opie’s work is very much based on realism, not with detail but with a sense of mood and memory.
In another example of Opie’s extraordinary versatility, he has made impressionistic portraits of heads cast in metal – bronze and anodized aluminum – laser cut them and inserted them into engraved stone. It’s another nod to classicism, and he has given them individual names like student, academic, shopkeeper, and secretary.
His east London studio is close to Bunhill Fields, an old London cemetery where Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan are buried. The massed stone tombs there, he has said, suggest another crowded London. And it’s crowds of people, going about their everyday business that fascinates him and provides how Opie can play with and re-present in a revitalized, contemporary form. At the same time, he is inspired by high art and this curious combination makes Opie’s work so fascinating.
* All images are courtesy of the Artist
Written by Bob Chaundy
JM Art Management