Julian Opie speaks to Art World Magazine in 2010.
Your animation work is always related to environment, or we can say "invading" into the urban environment, can you tell us the reason that you choose "Walking Man" series for the boulevard of 2010 Shanghai Expo? Have these pieces been shown in other occasions, what's the context then?
Pieces like these - depicting other people - have been shown all over the world - New York - Zurich - Prague - London - Tokyo - Seoul - Koln - Indianapolis - San Diego - Boston - Dublin - Toronto - and Valencia coming up. Usually on busy streets. They are like traditional statues depicting larger than life figures but they also relate to the crowd - offer a reflection of the passers by. I don't always have full control over where they go - I take what I am offered to a degree. Ancient Greek sculpture was often incorporated into the architecture of public buildings and I always try to find a way of attaching the work to its environment. The more grounded and integrated the statues are the better it works. In Shanghai there were severe limitations as to placement but I am happy with the result - The aim would be to make it seem as if the works had always been there.
In traditional thinking, eyes is the most important element for figurative painting. However, in most of your portrait work, you change haircut, clothes, shape of the face, expression of the face, but the eyes (they are always two black dots), why?
Actually I have not used black dots for some time - though I see on the internet that many other people do! At the time I was trying to build a face - an identity with the minimum information - Like a logo for a person. I started with a simple circle and looked for what I could add. I think we know people in many different ways - sometimes the way they walk or laugh or smell is what we recognize most. Recent works have a great deal more detail.
Your work not only reminds us of traditional Japanese painting and Manga (especially the way of using lines), but also some urban sign. What's the relationship and biggest difference do you think between painting and sign?
Maybe they are the same?
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.
In one of your essays, you said: "I don't tend to go to art fairs myself. They are exciting to look around, but are not really an exhibition - more of a show." What's the meaning for you to attend this World Expo? How much free space do you think for an artist in a project of state will, do you have any example of persuading and responding in such kind of projects?
I'm afraid to say that I have not seen Expo. I would like to but life does not permit it - I could list excuses but that would not answer your question. I try as hard as I can to control everything but there is always a limit - a point at which you have to compromise - take other peoples advice - give in - or pull out. As I said I think the Expo result was a happy one - sometimes what the world throws at you is better than that which you could have dreamt up yourself - this can push you beyond your own thinking - sometimes it's just a nightmare.