Julian Opie interviewed by New Weekly on the occasion of his solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery, Beijing in 2022/2023.
It seems that you are interested in the motion of people walking. What is it that you find fascinating? Is there a story behind these works?
I have made a lot of artworks of people walking, it’s true. I keep thinking I should stop and then something else occurs to me to do. Back in the 1990s I found a way to draw people but it was people standing like statues. Like posed photos. I drew everyone I knew like that. One day picking up my child from school, I was idly watching the passing crowds through my car windscreen. I realised that here was an endless supply of wonderful models. Each one a different universe, a heroic type there for five seconds and then gone forever.
Do you view your works as minimum (style)? Tell us why you choose to make them in this fashion? Do you think the minimum style will reduce or strengthen the meaning of your work?
Tough question. Not sure I fully understand it. I’m from the 1980s. Post modern. We don’t believe in style. Style is just like a colour. You pick and choose. One style makes it work this way. Another style another look, another meaning. A palette of styles. I think my works are pretty complicated.
Do you think sense of humor is important for your work? If so, how would you convey it?
What’s important is communication. At a party one uses humour to break barriers and engage with people. Humour puts people at their ease. In this way I can start to talk without intimidating or frustrating people. Art can be annoying like a loud radio on a beach. Like movement in an artwork, humour allows a way in. Humour is often achieved by telling the truth, by surprising people.
You have a series of work made for different cities, such as the Walking in… series, what is the main difference? What is the role these cities play in your works?
I like to be specific. Generalising is dangerous and ultimately false. I keep coming back to realism and what’s in front of me. If I’m doing a show in Busan or Mumbai it seems to make sense to exhibit images of the people outside on the street. Andy Warhol said of making art “if you have to make a decision something is wrong”, and I need a lot of people so where better to find them than in the town I am exhibiting in?
How do you define modern life? How do you like it?
I read a lot of sci-fi but I’m also constantly looking into the past in books and museums. Making art is about making sense of being in the world and having fun with it too. Of course there’s a huge range of experiences for different people, but I’m not so sure things really change that much. My father used to say that the only truly new experience was speed, but really that’s just a variable. Perhaps virtual reality is like that, a more extreme version of accessing an imagined world, which is something artists have always done.
Final question, what is your process when you create work? (from start/inspiration to finish)
What? In 100 words? I play with what I see, in nature and culture, in my own and other artist’s work. I gather and mix, trying out possibilities in my head. I can build works and whole exhibitions in my head. It’s a gift. I get very excited and start lots of projects gathering technologies and resources. Then I usually get scared and often panic, but out of the scramble to save the project – the compromises and last-minute inventions – comes a new solution. Seldom quite what I had wanted, but a small step from where I can often see more possibilities.