Catalogue entry

T03783 Making It 1983
Painted steel construction 102 3/4 × 46 1/2 × 75 3/4 (2610 × 1180 × 1925)
Inscribed ‘Julian Opie 83’ and ‘Julian Opie’ on back
Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983
Prov: Lisson Gallery, from whom bought by Patrons of New Art
Exh: Making Sculpture, Tate Gallery, July 1983 (not numbered, repr. Julian Opie leaflet); Julian Opie, Lisson Gallery, September–October 1983 (no catalogue, repr. in col. private view card); Forty Years of Modern Art 1945–1985, Tate Gallery, February–April 1986 (not numbered, repr. in col.)
Lit: Paul de Monchaux, Fenella Crichton, Kate Blacker, The Sculpture Show, exhibition catalogue, Hayward and Serpentine Galleries, August–October 1983, repr.p.78; William Feaver, ‘The New British Sculpture’, Art News, LXXXIII, January 1984, pp.71–5, repr. in col. p.75; Kenneth Baker, Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, September–October 1984, repr. in col.p.33

This work was exhibited at the Making Sculpture exhibition at the Tate Gallery from 4–24 July 1983.

Opie made larger than life models of tools and planks using sheet steel on which he drew their outlines with chalk. The steel was then cut using an oxyacetylene welding torch, and bent into shape. The components were assembled from pen sketches and welded together, this method enabling him to arrange the tools in precarious positions, which few other techniques would allow. As a result, the tools appear to be in the process of carrying out their normal function - the work is the description of an event. In addition, all the components were primed and painted using oils, this technique being a product of Opie's view that sheet metal could be regarded as a canvas and that his work falls somewhere in a category between painting and sculpture. To emphasize this point further, ‘Making It’ and most of his work is not painted on the reverse.

Although he admits that most observers are intrigued by the method of construction and materials used, he maintains that this is not important and that his work is about illusion.

His palette is bright, influenced by comic strips and advertising. Each tool itself is in this tradition in that it is ‘typical, standard, even if you hardly ever see one exactly like it, it must be the classic idea of that object, the kind you would draw for a person who couldn't read.’

By making all the elements in his sculpture rather than using found objects, he rids the objects of as many worldly connotations as is possible while maintaining the items' essential identity. Thus, transforming the item to a sign for itself. ‘Making It’ is narrative and he thinks that using found objects would not enable him to transform them into signs in the same language. By constructing the objects himself he can reduce the detail and increase or decrease the scale at will. Of ‘Making It’ he says:

It is a self-conscious sculpture. It's aware of itself being made and that makes it into a very different thing. The tools swamp the conventional wooden sculpture, in the same way that being aware that you are making art changes the art.

He also suggests that the human presence is subordinated, and the objects are allowed an intentionality and interdependency:

It is about the sculpture of the seventies, a lot of which tried to iron out any sign of human interference, whereas with ‘Making It’ you get to see behind the scenes, but really its reason for being is gained by one thing doing something to another like a match lighting a cigar. This gives a reason to the match and cigar, or the tools and the sculpture. They support each other - visually and physically.

All quotations are from an interview with the compiler 1984.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986