Monday, September 23, 2013

Julian Opie, finding the poetry

Everything I've seen by Julian Opie has been well made. There's no sloppiness, no rough edges. If his work looks simple it's because he spends innumerable hours simplifying it. Take the beautiful walking figures ... (Scroll down until you come to "Continuous computer animations" and click on the images.)

The video below is of an exhibition being installed in Italy. There are some fascinating images in it -- portraits with blinking eyes, a portrait where the background clouds are moving, another with a moving second hand on a watch ...

Much of the work is digital, done on computer, but he also draws and paints by hand. Drawing is where he's coming from. In an interview with Art World magazine in 2010, he talks about drawing:
Q4. How come the idea of representing people and landscape in a monochrome and uniform motion way? For instance, the album cover for Blur, the animation for the Expo.
Well that is what I do - I draw. Drawing is a process of making equivalents  - of engaging in the world physically and emotionally - of casting your mind out and grasping what you see. To me it's as natural as walking or talking - I have been doing it since I was 11 - every day - I cannot explain any one drawing as it depends on the one before. I suppose this is the way I see the world - it's the closest I can get to reality. (
My first experience of his work was during a visit to the Tate Modern in London in, I think, 2006. There was one of his life-size cars made of painted plywood (1996) which made me smile and lifted my spirits, I don't know why. Perhaps that's how he wants the viewer to feel. But thinking it is one thing, making it happen is another. The car forms are a marvel of simplifying and yet transforming the object into another kind of reality. I've found simplifying in general much harder to do than it looks. Julian Opie makes it look easy.

In an interview with the Journal of Contemporary Art, he said:
"One of the elements I am balancing is the degree to which something is generic and the degree to which something is specific. For instance, a real car: I don't think I could use this because it is too specific and then you have specificness: Whose car is this? How much does it cost? Do I want this car? All these questions would come in. And yet, if it is totally a symbol for a car. In terms of cars, you get to a point where you can't symbolize any further: when you symbolize a car as a hatch-back, you rule out sedans. There are some cars, and you see them on the street, usually it is an old sedan car, which have to changed eventually, because they don't look right anymore. Like telephones nobody uses anymore. They have lost their relationship to experience. Children will never use that telephone, although they will recognize the symbol. When it becomes only a symbol, it no longer seems to be useful to me. There is this double relation." Journal of Contemporary Art
And in a catalogue for an exhibition at the Tate, he said:
"I think my work is about trying to be happy … I want the world to seem like the kind of place you'd want to escape into … Mundane things are just as exciting as all the things you might imagine escaping into." -- 
His body of work is huge as seen in his website. He has also made public art for cities around the world on commission. Calgary is fortunate to have the one in the video below.

The figures have been described as "cartoon figures" -- I can't see them that way. To me the movement is marvellous, the way the heads bob just a little and the way the gait of each walker is different despite being pared down to essentials. This is easiest to see where a couple are walking together, such as Kris and Verity Walking, 2010 (in the Barbara Krakow gallery, link above). It reminds me of something in Shakespeare ... "Great Juno comes, I know her by her gait" *... and how amazingly true that is.
'It's difficult, modern life,' [Julian Opie] says. 'Everything is to a certain degree, spoilt. We're left with the choice of being appalled and trying to look away, or finding a way to take it all on board. Sometimes I cross Old Street roundabout and try to imagine that it's a river, and that these are boats passing by and isn't this nice, and we're waiting for a gap where I can cross the bridge… then the lights change and across I go. I find it amusing to do that. Not only that, it helps me, in a way. Trying to find the poetry.' -- from a Telegraph interview 2008. 

* (The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1)

Note: The link to the second video has been playing tricks. If the wrong video appears please let me know and try reloading the page. 

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