Summary

Cityscape? is one of a series of six screenprints Opie produced in 1998-9. The series was printed by Advanced Graphics, London and published by Alan Cristea Gallery, London, in an edition of forty plus ten artist’s proofs. Tate’s version is number four in the edition. Other individual prints in the series are Imagine you are walking (Tate P78310), Imagine you are driving (Tate P78311), Landscape? (Tate P78312), Cars? (Tate P78313) and Gary, popstar (Tate P78315). The prints were made from hand-cut stencils based on photographs that Opie altered on a computer. Much of this imagery is similar to his paintings and work in other media of the mid 1990s. The image used in Cityscape? also appears in a huge wall work in vinyl on aluminium stretchers (240 x 570cm) titled Husband: “Fancy a quickie?”/ Wife: “As opposed to what?” 1998 (Lisson Gallery, London).

Cityscape?, as its title indicates, depicts a city. Unlike the other prints in the series, which fill most of the paper, only half the page contains the image, which is cropped top and bottom in the style of a panoramic landscape view. Cityscape? is also the most detailed of the prints. This is because it depicts more diverse things, seen from further away, rather than because they are rendered in more detail. Buildings, roads and, unusually for an Opie landscape, people, fill the frame, extending to its cropped edges. The image is in black and white. Buildings, cars and people are diagrammatic, viewed from the front or the side. Distance is implied by things getting smaller in the background. The buildings stretch in a horizontal line across the image. Such architectural features as roofs, windows and simplified moulding are in black and define the buildings, which are not outlined and so merge into one another in the white spaces between features. A tower in the centre left of the image featured in a sculptural series Opie made in 1997, Tourist 3 and 4 (Barbara Thumm Gallery, Berlin). The building in front and to the left of it has also featured as a sectioned sculpture, titled Office?1 1997 (Lisson Gallery, London) and a wall painting created in Barbara Thumm Gallery, Berlin (1997). It is labelled ‘Office Building, Finsbury Square, London’ in a diagram in a recent catalogue (British Council 1997, p.28). On the right side of the image a section of Georgian architecture is identifiable by its lines of horizontal moulding, its triangular lintels and its rounded windows. The cars, like the buildings, are standard Opie styles (see Tate T07207 and P78313). The people all face towards the viewer. Their heads are denoted by an empty black circle. Their clothes are also stylised, providing a range of male and female types.

Opie derives his images from his immediate personal experience but depersonalises them in order to offer the viewer a commodity, that of being able to make his or her own individual imaginative journey. This process of commodification is most overtly referred to in Opie’s recent work in which both sculptures and prints have multiple versions and possibilities for combination. One of his recent catalogues, published by the Lisson Gallery, London in 2001, takes the form of a mail-order catalogue, which illustrates and lists variable formats and prices for a range of sculptures and prints. Much of Opie’s work of the late 1990s simulates the symbolic landscape of computer games and children’s picture books and encourages the viewer to journey into a stylised representation of the world, emptied of human presence. His deliberately bland imagery provides pared down visual symbols for everyday objects and experiences. A catalogue of his work, such as that cited above, may be seen as providing the visual alphabet for a language, similar to that used by the creators of road signs, corporate logos and digital games, appropriated and personalised by the artist. Opie has said: ‘what I would really like to do is make a painting and then walk into it’ (quoted in Julian Opie 1997, p.52) and ‘I think my work is about trying to be happy ... I want the world to seem like the kind of place you’d want to escape into ... Mundane things are just as exciting as all the things you might imagine escaping into.’ (Quoted in Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, Ikon, Birmingham 2001, pp.4 and 8.) These statements suggest that the processes of his work may have an idealising or utopic function, which is belied by the blank emptiness of his imagery. The question mark in the title of Landscape? indicates a query about what is being represented. Opie’s visual symbols and his system of commodification suggest that the utopic ideals represented by these systems may result, paradoxically, in dehumanising alienation.

This is Opie’s first incursion into the medium of traditional printmaking.

Further reading:
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 2000, pp.4-18, reproduced pp.6-7
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, British Council 1997, inside cover, pp.28-9
Julian Opie: Sculptures Films Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 2001, pp.6-11, and 45

Elizabeth Manchester
September 2002