Imagine you are driving 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), Landscape? (Tate P78312), Cars? (Tate P78313), Cityscape? (Tate P78314) and Gary, popstar (Tate P78315). The prints were made from hand-cut stencils based on photographs that Opie altered on a computer. He had already used similar imagery in his paintings of the early 1990s. Imagine you are driving (1-19) 1993-4 (private collection) are paintings made using acrylic on wood. Imagine you are driving (sculptures 1-4) 1993 (private collection) are, as the title indicates, sculptural versions of the idea made in cast concrete sections, a scaled up version of a child’s toy racing track. Imagine you are driving (1-4) 1997 (1, collection Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art) are large vinyl prints mounted on aluminium stretchers in the manner of paintings, showing variations on an image of an empty road. The third of these is the same image as the later screenprint. Imagine you are driving 1993 (private collection) also exists as ‘an endless computer film to be shown on monitor or projected’ (Julian Opie: Sculptures Films Paintings, p.28), produced in an edition of three.
The image depicted in all the two-dimensional versions of Imagine you are driving is an empty expanse of road disappearing into the distance. Slight variations on the precise viewpoint appear in different paintings. Most, like the print version, are dominated by a large expanse of black tarmac in the bottom centre of the image. White lines, the road markings, follow the rules of perspective to the vanishing point, which is slightly off centre. The upper half of the image is a monotone area of blue sky. Narrow strips of featureless green landscape lie on either side of the road. The world referred to in this image, coupled with Opie’s title, suggests computer driving games in which the participant goes on a virtual journey. 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. 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). He has also stated: ‘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 have an idealising or utopic function. If computer games provide a contemporary arena for imaginary journeys, an escape from ‘mundane’ everyday realities, Opie’s use of this imagery would seem to draw attention to its paradoxically blank and alienating qualities.
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. Opie’s 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.
This is Opie’s first incursion into the medium of traditional printmaking.
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1993, pp.106-9, 112-15
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 2000, pp.4-18, reproduced (colour) pp.12-13
Julian Opie: Sculptures Films Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 2001, p.28