Opie discusses the part movement and motoring plays in his work.
Tell us something about the background of the work in the ADAC collection.
I have been drawing people walking for years. Walking seems the most natural and obvious of human movements, it’s the thing we see most people doing out on the street and above all it’s something I am able to draw. Ancient Egyptians drew people striding side-on, it gives a sense of purpose, direction and energy to the image. The walking people don’t address you, they walk past in profile oblivious to the viewer which gives them a kind of dignity, like an animal.
I film people walking on the street or on a walking machine in my studio and turn the film into a series of drawings in the traditional animation technique but all on the computer. I try to draw in the most obvious way possible. As if all I wanted to do was record and relay the information in the most efficient and normal way - as if the drawing was functional, for safety or to guide an electrical installation. I have looked at road signs, symbols and hieroglyphics to create a language of drawing that would allow me to draw people, that would make them seem real, unique and interchangeable. Once I have drawn around 60 consecutive frames it's possible to loop the movement and make an endlessly repeatable stride, which is walking. Once I have drawn a few people I can combine these individuals and make a crowd. The two figures in this work - Siân and Jeremy - work as assistants in my studio.
What significance does mobility, movement or motoring have in your work?
Early computer games, screensavers, satellite navigation systems and computer flight simulators gave me a language with which to both draw and animate the world around me. By finding different geographies and different modes of travel, and by allowing these differences to define the drawing and colour and angles of view, I have a wider set of possibilities. I have also looked for other materials and techniques. In the 90s I hand painted on flat wooden boards framed in aluminium and set behind glass to simulate a view through the windscreen. I also made continuous computer animations for small fat CRT monitors and I painted whole walls to create a sense of immersion and virtual walkthrough. I now use slim, backlit LCD screens and inkjet prints on plastics and glass.
I am addicted to the work of a Japanese artist of the early 19th century called Utagawa Hiroshige. He influenced Van Gogh, Monet and Hergé (creator of Tintin) and many others. There is always suggested movement within his images, someone punting down the river, birds crossing the sky, rain falling, flags flapping, people crossing bridges or fireworks popping. Hiroshige achieved all of this with woodblock prints and vegetable dyes on a strictly government regulated scale. I can make elements actually move using computer animation.
What does movement or driving do to you psychologically and physically?
Looking directly at something is not always the best way to see it. Look straight at a dim star and it disappears. If you look down the centre of your train carriage and become aware of the landscape outside the windows you can see it better, not the details but the shape and colour, the way the hills roll and the fields shift shape as you pass. You can move an object in your hands to understand it’s shape but you must pass through a landscape to see it properly. My father used to say that speed is the only new experience (he did not ski or ride a horse) and as I was travelling by train from Seoul to Busan in South Korea two years ago, I felt that I could draw the speed, the passing time, the rice fields, mountains, rivers and cables with a series of sliding lateral images that lacked detail but gave the sense of movement.
Yesterday – today – tomorrow? We would like to hear about your past memories of car journeys with your family or first car.
In the early 1990’s I set off around Europe in a fast Citroen CX to photograph landscapes, but I began to have difficulty deciding when to stop and take the photos. I worried that I might be missing the best views and even if I found them it might be the wrong weather or time of day. I decided therefore not to stop at all but to continue driving and simply take photos from the driver’s seat. It became a passive recording of what came at me and went past me as I circled western Europe rather than any chosen composition. The results provided a potentially endless series of what I called “Roadscapes” where the flat countryside creates a moving but somehow constant set of parallel or converging stripes. Every view was connected and the same as every other view, though arranged in different ways.