Julian Opie

<strong>Julian Opie</strong><br/> Born 1958, London; Lives & works in London<br/>Artist-in-residence at Northern Editions Printmaking Workshop, 1998<br/><br/><i>Untitled </i>[Sydney Harbour] 1998<br/>Inkjet print<br/>26.5 x 39.4cm [image]; 32 x 44.5cm [paper]<br/>Charles Darwin University Art Collection – CDU781<br/>Gifted by the artist and Northern Editions Printmaking Workshop, 2002<br/>Image © the artist

English sculptor, painter, printmaker and installation artist Julian Opie was educated at Goldsmiths College in London, graduating in 1982. He earned early renown for his satirical student series “Eat Dirt, Art History”, where masterpieces of the Western canon were copied in loosely drawn fashion, an accompanying invective summoning Old Masters to “Eat Dirt”. More than a decade before Charles Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997, when YBAs (Young British artists) rode the new wave of contemporary – and often controversial – British art, Opie related to an interviewer that his brash Art School oeuvre “was an acknowledgement of the hopeless position of the art student in light of art history, but also a rallying call not to feel overwhelmed by it.”

During the 1980s, Opie swiftly established himself as an international contemporary artist of note. He developed a concise and reductive formal language of symbols and signs that drew on an early Pop Art sensibility given free rein to exploit a wide range of media and creative processes, including photography and computer-generated technologies. Whether in pencil or pixel, drawing remains integral to Opie’s creative practice and process, although there is little that appears “hand-made” in his work.

Drawing’s “rigour and economy” and its ability to emphasise “the essentials” have endowed Opie’s work with a degree of clarity and telegrammatic immediacy more often equated with advertising and commercial design. His exploration (and exploitation) of computer-generated imagery and “modern virtualities” of time and space have, however, more than a retinal purpose in mind. They remind the artist “of early Renaissance paintings where artists were trying to get a sense of perspective.” For Opie, it was “their failure to get it right” that is “really engaging”, and it is precisely this quality that he finds most compelling about “computer art.”

Experimenting “with codes and conventions of representation” and “exploring the power of images and their relationship to perception and recognition”, Opie reveals ways of seeing and how we “read” the world.  The artist recently related:
It is hard now to imagine a world where there were no moving images in public – where virtually no moving three-dimensional graphics existed anywhere other than hand-drawn animation movies at the cinema. If my work is “about” anything it is about looking: about my looking and other people’s looking, about how looking allows me to know the world and know I exist within it. Looking, engaging, drawing, using eyes and brain and learned experience.

Anything relating to this – anything that changes the rules or breaks the rules and reveals more – jumps out at me and captures my attention.  A shadow silhouette, bright sunlight on sparkling water, a turning radar that appears to turn the wrong way – such things break the logic of looking and, in doing so, reveal the construct behind looking and behind perceived reality.

In 1998, Opie was invited to participate in the 11th Biennale of Sydney (18 September – 8 November). Jonathan Watkins, then Curator at the Serpentine Gallery in London, was the Biennale’s Artistic Director, and arranged for a number of international Biennale artists to undertake printmaking projects in Darwin at Northern Editions Printmaking Workshop. Opie produced two screenprints inspired by Sydney Harbour, later developing and extending “traditional” printmaking as part of his practice in London. In a series of landscape-inspired prints held in the Tate Gallery, London (dated 1998-99), Opie used hand-cut stencils based on digital photographs he had refined and altered in a computer program.

Images generated for screenprints made in Darwin also became the basis for works conceived in other media from the late 1990s onwards – in particular landscape subjects. For example, the painting I have travelled 2004 is an eerie evocation of a muddy grey watercourse flanked by dark mangrove-green vegetation, reminiscent of one of the Top End’s ominous snaky rivers.  Its extended title specifically refers to Darwin and Opie’s printmaking sojourn in the Top End:
I have travelled a fair amount both as a tourist and for work but it’s only since late 1998 that I have drawn specific landscapes from real places. I made the first ones from photos I took on the way to do a print project in Darwin. I drew an image of Alice Springs airport and one of the Sydney Opera House, drawn from across the bay where I had been installing a sculpture. I later used photos from previous trips, searching through old cardboard boxes in the basement. I’ve always tended to photograph anything that interested me, what have you got to lose? But I became more focused and had an idea of the kind of view I could draw. I realized that this was potentially limiting and determined to photograph piles of logs and rock cliff faces as well as the usual distant views. I also took a lot of shots of the water, but this is not something new for me.

Julian Opie’s work is represented in major international public art museums, private and corporate collections, as well as the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne) and the Queensland Art Gallery (Brisbane). He has held numerous solo and group exhibitions in the UK and abroad. In 2011, Alan Cristea Gallery in London published a catalogue raisonné charting Opie’s “development from early reductive landscapes and portraits, to silhouettes, animations, lenticulars, LCD and LED animations” and documenting 169 limited and more than 150 unlimited edition multiples.

Anita Angel
Curator, CDU Art Collection and Art Gallery
4 June 2014

Simon Grant, Julian Opie, Biennale of Sydney 1998, statement
Mary Horlock, Julian Opie (J.O.), Tate Gallery Publishing, London, 2004
Stuart Jeffries, “Julian Opie: ‘I’m not sure what art is’”, The Guardian, 13 June 2011
“Framing the view: six artists reveal how they choose landscapes”, The Guardian, 2 February 2013

Email correspondence with the artist’s studio assistant, 27-28 February 2014

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