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“Everything you see is a trick of the light…Turn off the light and it’s all gone.” – Julian Opie
Julian Opie is a world-renowned visual artist associated with the New British Sculpture movement. Both sculptor and digital artist, he is perhaps best known for employing modern media including computer-aided design, LED installations and LCD screens. His fragmented, comic-book style is instantly recognisable; he presents the contemporary world in a simple yet concise language with landscapes defined by sliding blocks of colour and portraits with schematic lines and dots for eyes.
Animated figures are a hallmark of his work, drawn with simple black outlines and minimal detail, yet he manages to convey individual character, purpose and fluidity of movement. “When you make an image, a lot of what’s going on there is to do with what people bring to it. Some people often talk about my portraiture being pared-down but I don’t quite see it that way… I found that painting a face, in a certain sense quite blank, allows for one’s visual, mental process to fill it in.” Opie takes inspiration from classical portraiture, Japanese woodblock prints, Egyptian hieroglyphs, public signage and Pop Art aesthetics, particularly the work of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
Opie was born in 1958 and studied at Goldsmith’s, where was taught by conceptual artist and painter Michael Craig-Martin. Graduating in 1982, he began to exhibit with artists including Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon and Anish Kapoor, gathered around the Lisson Gallery. The group’s work became known as New British Sculpture, a humorous synthesis of pop and kitsch which features objects and waste from the urban environment.
Julian Opie became an influential name in the 1980s’ British art scene following his early success with ‘A Pile of Old Masters’. This gallery exhibit reimagined classic artworks in a challenge to the ‘spectre’ of art history and the current modernist pop aesthetics.
Opie’s early works focused on steel architectural forms, and later abstract structures in wood and Perspex, but he has since embraced a whole new range of media, using techniques such as inkjet printing, LCD projections and animations and LED lighting. Most memorably, he has produced several continuous animations on LCD screens, displayed in public locations around the globe.
Julian Opie art has been exhibited in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery as well as international venues such as the National Museum of Art,Osaka, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The artist has also created a number of public installations, including ‘Promenade’ (2012), a permanent installation in Calgary; the four-sided LED sculpture ‘Ann Dancing’ (2010) in Indianapolis and a series of glass panels commissioned by St Mary’s Hospital in London.
His album cover for British pop band Blur in 2000 won the prize of Music Week CADS, Best Illustration. He also created an LED projection for U2’s ‘Vertigo’ world tour in 2006, and designed the ballet Infra for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 2008.
Julian Opie lives and works in London.