Julian Opie


Krobath Berlin presents new portraits by Julian Opie realised in silkscreen, LCD and vinyl.

“I have been accepting occasional portrait commissions for some years now. I like the link to former art systems and practices and it provides me with interesting and keen models. The people in this show, Ika, Maria and Mirjam, were models from some time ago, but I recently returned to the photo shoot material to make a new set of paintings where the face does not get drawn. These would have been less acceptable as commissions I imagine, as the face is usually sought after, but the poses and settings were what I needed. To complete the pictures, I bought and borrowed various props and photographed some in museums. Drawing out from the figure, this is the first time in this simplified style, that I have gone beyond the figure and its immediate accessories to fill the canvas and almost create a full-blown space. When I photograph the models I have print outs of old master paintings spread out on the floor and ask the models to take up poses based on these. At the time there is something somewhat comical out the poses, but to everyone´s surprise, people tend to look great in these positions. Looking at paintings from the 17th and 18th century, I notice tricks and conventions of composition with columns, couches and drapes that have helped to create these paintings, at the same time the references give the plastic rectangles a recognisable look.

In past times you would order your portrait as a bust or a three quarter length or, for the very wealthy a full length–the bodies remained fairly life sized so the full length portrait was pretty big. I have always loved paintings as objects hanging on museum walls–dense rectangles of depth and shiny colour with wild golden or dark ebony frames–they seem both flat and smooth yet deep as open doors. Figures spring from them or recede into their spaces as you walk around the room. There is a scene or rather a level in the beginning of Tomb Raider where Lara Croft walks around her English mansion and framed old master portraits hang on the walls–the pixelization is so great that you can not see who the portraits are, but all the depth and richness are there and you know kind of what they mean.

When early for a train or an appointment, I often stare at the passers-by and see it as a lovely random choreography. People walk, interweaving, strangers, but aware of each other in a navigational sense. Each person has a particular and telling gait and outfit. Recently I asked all my assistants to walk on my walking machine and I filmed and then drew them. It takes about 30-40 drawings to make a full stride and then when it is looped the character can walk endlessly. Having finished the film, it is often possible to make paintings from some of the frames and to combine different characters walking as pairs or groups. I am surprised by how the frozen motion of the single frame still suggests movement. The side on view of the human is easier to look at than a frontal confrontation and reflects back one´s own lateral movement. Ancient Egyptian wall paintings and Greek stone friezes used this side on striding pose.”

Julian Opie