Landscape? 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), 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 images in his paintings of the mid 1990s. Landscape (1&2) 1997 (Galerie Nova Sin, Prague) are two large fabric wall hangings. Landscape? (1-3) 1998 (Lisson Gallery, London) are large vinyl prints mounted on aluminium stretchers. The first of these is the same image as that used in the screenprint. The imagery of Opie’s ‘landscapes’ was also used in an ‘endless computer film’ (Julian Opie: Sculptures Films Paintings, p.28) titled Imagine you are moving, commissioned by the British Airways Authority in 1997 and played on monitors at London’s Heathrow Airport, Terminal 1. A landscape wall painting is displayed in the Eurostar terminal at Waterloo Station. More recently Opie has made Eight Landscapes
2000 (Tate P78521-8), a series of lambda prints created from digitally altered photographs of landscapes.
The image depicted in all versions of Landscape? (with or without the question mark) is a stylised representation of a green landscape. The only features depicted are simplified trees, always represented as a light or dark green cloud shapes above a dark brown trunk. In this version of Landscape? there are four trees of two different sorts in two different greens. For each form, Opie used the same stencil, scaled up or down. The two light-green trees are closest. The form of their foliage is a vertically elongated cloud-like bubble while their trunks are a simple tapering column drawn with straight lines. On the right a branch sticks out into the foliage. The other two trees are dark green and more rounded in form. Their trunks are thicker and more complex, with three branches sticking out into the foliage. Behind the lime green of the grass or meadow in which the trees are standing are two strips of blue, representing distant undulations in the landscape. Behind these, a large area of pale blue represents a cloudless sky. All the colours are monotone.
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.
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 2000, pp.4-18, reproduced (colour) pp.8-9
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, British Council 1997, pp.40, 42-6, 48 and 52-3
Julian Opie: Sculptures Films Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 2001, p.28 and 46