Julian Opie You Are in a Car (Volvo 440) 1996 Painted wood

Julian Opie
You Are in a Car (Volvo 440)
Painted wood
Tate. Purchased 1996
© Julian Opie

Julian Opie was born in Britain in 1958. His distinctive metal sculptures with household objects painted on their surfaces established his reputation in the early 1980s. His work includes painting, and both figurative and abstract sculpture. He lives and works in London.

Julian Opie’s work challenges the distinctions between sculpture, painting and the everyday objects of our modern environment, such as cars, buildings, and roads. His pared-down, minimal style recalls the economical aesthetic of computer icons or board games. But although his sculptures of office buildings, for instance, retain a flat pictographic quality, they also have a physical presence. We are given the chance to explore an artificial environment within real time and space.

Each work starts from a mundane reality: a specific car seen parked on a particular road, an actual office block standing in a town centre. Opie removes it from its setting and takes away its chance irregularities - the bumps and scratches, for example, that characterise a particular vehicle. While recognisable, the object is no longer specific. It becomes a sign that stands for a type of car or building, part of an endlessly interchangeable series.

The environments Opie creates suggest urban spaces planned and built as combinations of functional units, with little regard for individuality or the texture of the life they will contain. Whether we are being invited to condemn such places is uncertain since, in its repetition and anonymity, the work conveys a certain pleasure, a sense of freedom even, that only such neutrality could allow.