Julian Opie

Monica De Cardenas | Milan

It has been said that during the ’80s young English sculptors—Julian Opie among them—abandoned the countryside and returned to the city. Rather than using, for example, the stones of Richard Long, this new generation of artists adopted the materials of everyday life and industrial production. Today, at least in Opie’s case, one can say that the artist has again returned to the country. Two of the three wall paintings in this exhibition showed different types of natural landscapes, one mountainous with pine trees and snowy peaks, the other softer and more hilly—the typical image of the English countryside.

These landscapes seemed deliberately generic, and the brushstrokes that described trees, mountains, or hills appeared to have been quickly executed. The paintings also openly declared their relationship to computer graphics (Opie often uses a computer as an aid in creating them). Next to the landscape paintings, two sculptures denoted, with equally rudimentary features, a church and a small office building, the latter virtually reduced to a parallelepiped decorated with geometric patterns.

Opie’s images—painted on the wall, sculpted, or created directly on the computer, and all defined through formal reduction—can at times hardly be distinguished from abstractions not taken from nature. This was also true of his earlier sculptures from the late ’80s, which were meant to depict various objects but resembled instead Minimalist modules. His working process continues to be characterized by an emphasis on basic structures. Choosing a few essential elements to which each image can be reduced, he renders them seemingly generic. Opie’s interest in the loss of particularity stems from his work with the internal and external spaces of the post-Modern city.

According to one view, uniformity is inherent in urban spaces and, by extension, necessarily affects our experience of them. Because of our alienation from nature, our observation of the natural world might result in generic forms for pine trees, mountains, hills, and so on, all of which Opie draws and then reproduces in the form of slides, so he can later combine them in various ways, depending on the dimensions of the wall on which he will be working.

This adaptability, however, also implies something positive, a new kind of optimism. Opie’s painted or three-dimensional images often seem playful, like oversized toys. While true of the sculptures in general, in this show this playfulness was manifested in the two large trees made of painted wood that were installed in one of the exhibition spaces, near an image of a building on the wall. References to childhood, already present in the artist’s earliest pieces (painted images on variously shaped sheets of steel), can perhaps be understood as pointing toward a means of escaping a desperately homogeneous world—a place from which to begin a new, different kind of individuation.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.