A text written by Julian Opie to accompany his 2016 solo exhibition at Krobath, Vienna.
I prefer to look at a moving landscape, seen from a train or car or walking. This way I can feel the space and get an impression of overall colour without focusing on any particular incident or detail. When I enter a grand museum I like to stand near the entrance and take in the large, dark rectangles in frames that hang on the walls like windows, to see the paintings as objects - rich browns in shining gold surrounds. Seen like this they become classic types, figures in a landscape, nudes, head and shoulder portraits, historical scenes. You can walk into a party and see an old friend or simply take in the jumble of human forms, the mass of heads and hairstyles. Stand on a street corner and look for directions or simply take in the seemingly choreographed dance of the passing crowd. One of those people in the passing crowd, singled out, zoomed in on, might perhaps look like one of these portraits, true to the situation, part individual, part type.
I am showing paintings from three different series; the first were photographed with a still camera on the streets of Seoul by a hired photographer. I chose individuals from the thousands of passing figures and then edited the original full-length paintings I made down to the heads alone. The second group are from a series of films I made of people who were passing outside my studio. I invited them in and videoed them for a small fee. After making the animations I zoomed in on the heads and then later made the last set by editing these drawings even further into something more like a sign language. In each case the portraits are in profile suggesting that the characters are unaware of their audience and are simply passing by.
Portraiture is the most common and the most utilitarian of art forms. A portrait has a job to do and acts as a kind of mirror to the viewer, a head looks at a head. This allows me to try different experiments with combinations of subjects, materials and processes. The Seoul series is more detailed and needs the immediacy and clarity of a flat system of painting. I have used computer cut vinyl and inkjet printing to make works that seem close to billboards and book covers. The invited studio models are simpler images and this allows me to combine them with a metal structure that has a raised black line and hand painted colours. The relief system and colours are taken from ancient Egyptian art. The last, most simple set can be read so quickly that it allows me to use a thick, spray painted metal structure, like the side of a ship, with colours based on road and public safety signs.
Scale, surface, expense, weight, reference, threat, subject, all these things register immediately when you look at an object. These are the elements that can be combined and juggled. I gather observations from the world around me by drawing and photographing and remembering what stands out to me and then try to make objects that maximise and combine the observations. I don’t have a set agenda or purpose or message, I jump on possibilities as they unfold. By combining the look of marble Roman heads on museum plinths, a passing street crowd, public display systems, old master portraits and children’s wooden toy figures, I arrive at the last group of small sculptures in the show where the heads are on plinths instead of hung like paintings on the wall.