There are hills in the distance (C) is a large wall painting, the dimensions of which are determined by the space in which it is to be installed. It depicts a simplified landscape composed of three shades of green, representing foreground fields or grassland, plus two of blue, representing the distant hills alluded to in the title. Colour gradation in the greens and the blues corresponds to the notion of distance. Paler colours represent areas that are further away. These colours are painted onto the wall in sloping horizontal strips below a large area of light blue sky. The line of the horizon runs parallel to the line where the wall meets the floor and occurs where the top of the lightest green meets the bottom of the blues. The top edges of the two blue areas representing hills are curved to depict the hills’ contours. The darker blue, nearer hills diminish to nothing at points on the horizon line where they overlap the lighter blue, further away hills. All the colours are monotone. The painting is made using water-based acrylic paint applied with a roller for even application. Low-tack masking tape is applied to the wall at the edges of each area when painting. The work is not dependent on the artist’s presence for its execution. The painting is carried out by professional sign painters following his instructions, which consist of templates, measurements and a list detailing the order in which areas should be painted. These include the specifications that ‘the idea is not to decorate the room but to make a panorama or view. One long wall in a room is usually enough but two adjacent walls are o.k.. It is also possible to stop the painting one third or two thirds of the way along the second wall.’ (Quoted from Opie’s statement in Tate Conservation files.) There are hills in the distance (C) is one of a series of wall paintings based on images Opie has also used in other media. You pass an office building. 3 1996 (Tate T07192) is a wall painting depicting the façade of an office building.
Opie’s earliest wall paintings are scaled-up versions of his paintings on wood. He subsequently began to think of them as backdrops to installations of his sculptural objects, creating environments in which the viewer becomes part of the scene rather than remaining an observer at a distance. The advantage of the landscape he has said, is that ‘the country provides really large areas of colour, and the perception of great distance’
(quoted in Julian Opie 1997, p.37). Although the wall painting may be exhibited as a painting in its own right, it may provide the background for such works as a life-sized model of a car, You are driving a Volvo 1996 (Tate T07207), and a series of scaled-down office buildings, You see an office building. 2, 3, 4 and 5 1996 (Tate T07208-T07211). These six elements were combined in a room at Tate Modern when it opened in May 1998.
The creation of a wall painting (or drawing) to be executed by technicians following the artist’s instructions is standard practice for American artist Sol LeWitt (born 1928), who began making such proposals in the late 1960s. Such wall drawings as A Wall Divided Vertically into Fifteen Equal Parts, Each with a Different Line Direction and Colour, and all Combinations 1970 (Tate T01766), may be installed in different sites and on different scales. In a similar manner, Opie’s wall paintings involve a practical flexibility. Like his work in other media, Opie’s wall paintings are based on the ‘multiple modular method’ described by LeWitt in his famous ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’ (first printed in Artforum, vol.5, no.10, June 1967, pp.79-83). Opie derives his modules from photographs of some of the basic elements of ordinary suburban life. He alters the photographs on the computer to produce stylised and simplified images which become ‘generic’ symbols. Extreme simplification brings out some elements and loses others, generating questions around visual language and how images are recognised. This aspect is emphasised by the use of such titles as Landscape? 1998-9 (Tate P78312), a print depicting a landscape similar to that portrayed in There are hills in the distance (C). Through the mid 1990s Opie expanded the principles of modular variation into other kinds of structures and across artistic media. Works consisting of the same or similar images, with the same or similar titles, appear as sculptures, wall paintings, paintings, c-type and lambda prints, posters and videos. The works’ status as commodities are emphasised by their presentation in catalogues designed to resemble sales brochures, detailing all available versions and listing prices (Julian Opie: Sculptures Films Paintings, 2001). Modular structures are the basis of all post-industrial modes of production, design and presentation. Opie’s use of these processes exposes their potentially dehumanising effects.
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, British Council 1997, pp.44 and 46-7, reproduced (colour) pp.26-7
Julian Opie: Sculptures Films Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Lisson Gallery, London 2001, reproduced (colour) p.19
Julian Opie, exhibition catalogue, Ikon, Birmingham 2001, reproduced (colour) p.11