Julian Opie discusses his exhibition at PARCO Museum, Tokyo in 2022.
Tell me about your new exhibition at Shibuya Parco. What do you want visitors to leave feeling and thinking?
My upcoming exhibition at PARCO is a new experiment for me. Not just new work but a completely new way of experiencing an exhibition. Over the years my method for planning exhibitions has evolved from cardboard models through computer mock-ups to full blown VR walk through models. I found that my experience inside these models was changing my way of thinking and allowing for a very different way of working. I found I wanted to get back into this alternative reality as often as possible and began to imagine sharing that experience with others as an exhibition in itself. I’m not suggesting no more galleries or experiencing art from your sofa at home, this project still requires a dedicated space and a physical involvement with the artwork. In fact, in some ways I find it highlights the senses, as your mind seeks to make sense of the world around you in a fresh way.
We will be seeing your first ever VR piece. Where did the idea come from?
Sorry, I suppose I already answered that. As soon as I saw computer imagery and three-dimensional computer gaming in the 1990s, I recognised that this was somehow relevant and parallel to the work I was already making. A drawn world that could be mentally and visually entered and navigated. It’s a small step to now physically entering that world and the technology has recently become good enough to allow for that. I first experienced the VR goggles as a gaming entertainment but combining this with the computer modelling I was doing at the time, I soon imagined a whole exhibition that could be experienced in this way.
The work that will be displayed on the automatic door uses a picture of people coming and going in Shibuya as a motif. Where did this idea come from?
Every idea comes from a refinement or adjustment of a previous project taking me back step by step to pre art school works that I made in my family home as a teenager, so it’s hard to say where an idea comes from. Every new work is part of a rolling daily process.
I was sitting in my car waiting for one of my children to come out of school in a bored semi-trance when I saw the people passing by as a kind of picture, like a classical frieze of dynamic bodies that flowed endlessly like a river. I imagined drawing the individuals and combining them into crowds. There is an endless supply of people walking past me to draw and I have used pedestrians from many countries including Japan, Korea, Australia, America, India and Belgium.
The way I draw the people renders them fairly roughly, using a limited vocabulary of line and form like hieroglyphs, but I think they remain individual, each person particular and connected to reality like a shadow relates to an object
What are you thinking while you making new stuff?
Mostly I am problem solving. I start some projects because some vague possibility pops into my mind usually fired by noticing something intriguing in the world around me. The way a ship’s name is painted on its metal hull or the way the skeletal structure of a new building creates a drawing against the sky, kids dancing frantic looped steps on TikTok videos….
The next stage is a long one of trial and error trying to refine and supercharge these observations into functional paintings and sculptures. I make endless tests and plans, models and drawings, trying to understand the logic and rules underlying the idea. Once I get there, I can make many works for a short burst of frantic activity and then it’s time to move on again.
What is the most important thing when you’re drawing?
There is no “most important thing” except perhaps concentration. I’m not a good cook but I find making art is perhaps like cooking. There is no most important ingredient, it is the combination of ingredients and the cooking process that allows it to be any good.
Do you think that your distinctive style of emphasizing outlines is influenced by Japanese paintingsex.Ukiyoe(Utagawa Hiroshige/Utamaro Kitagawa) ananimation cells like Ghibli’s? If so which kind of Japanese arts are influenced by?
I came across Ukiyo-e prints when I was young and have been very inspired by their drawing and composition. In the end Utamaro, Harunobu and above all Hiroshige are the artists I look at. Hasui from the 1930s is also interesting and beautiful. I see that these artists influenced Van Gogh, Monet and Hergé (the creator of Tintin) all of whom influenced me greatly. Of course there are connections backwards to Chinese painting, and forwards to many other artists. The use of a line to picture the world is ancient and universal. It’s how the human mind seems to work. I think of a line as a focus of concentration.
What would you like to achieve through your work? What is the goal for you?
Goals and achievements don’t mean much to me. I just love to work and play with ideas, observations and processes. I find art to be a way of engaging with the world, of enjoying it and making some sense and use of existence.
Could you tell me the history you dig into Drawing, painting and fine art?
Art is a human activity more ancient than history. It is our way of visualising and thinking about the world, of crossing the barrier between inner and outer worlds, between the experienced and the imagined. I feel that I see this process in art from many places and periods. I enjoy and collect art that makes sense to me and echoes my own searching and experimenting. By collecting other art I feel fully engaged in it, like a football fan for their club, and I often get ideas for fabrication methods and ways of drawing my own works. I collect a lot of Egyptian, Indonesian tribal and contemporary art, European old masters and armour, as well as Japanese Ukiyo-e.
You also worked on many projects such as album jackets for Blur and stage design for the Royal Ballet and U2. What kind of influence do you get from other arts?
I would not say, though, that I am directly influenced by these other art forms in the same way as I am by visual art. Influence is a complicated notion since we swim in culture and effect it ourselves. I don’t feel as if I really understand very much and I am just feeling my way in the dark. I work alongside so many other people pushing and pulling the way I think and see. Doing those projects was an exciting step out of the usual museum and gallery shows that I am lucky to do. I make public projects quite often and I also value the way these allow me to expand my vocabulary and engage with other kinds of spaces that are outside what is called the Art World.
What would you like to say to fans who watch Japanese works?
Nothing really. I’m not that interested in talking. What interests me is making and showing artworks. What I want to say is contained in the exhibition which I invite you to visit alongside my non-VR exhibition at the Maho Kubota gallery. I hope the process of looking at these exhibitions and engaging in what I have conjured up will be fun and engaging and perhaps rebound out into looking at other things in the world. Every show I make is new and something of a gamble which is exciting for me but also risky.