In this episode of A brush with..., Ben Luke talks to the British artist Julian Opie about his life and work by exploring his greatest cultural influences. Born in London in 1958, Opie graduated from Goldsmiths College in 1982 and quickly became associated with the New British Sculpture movement. From the 1980s into 1990s he transitioned from sculpture inspired by Pop art and minimalism into a simpler, graphic style, employed across a diverse range of media, from paintings to animation. He has increasingly made public works, which have appeared in cities and sculpture parks around the world.Though much of Opie’s work appears to be urban in nature, his work has also depicted everything from motorways and farmed fields to rivers and coastal scenes. He has also made numerous renowned portraits, including those of the Britpop band Blur, which appeared on the cover of their 2000 album The Best Of.
In this interview, Opie talks about the early influence of Egon Schiele, his passion for Japanese prints by Utamaro and Hiroshige, his fascination with reading about ancient cultures and early humans, and his connection with composer Max Richter, among much else. And he answers the ultimate questions: if you could live with just one work of art, what would it be? And what is art for?
A brush with… series 4 runs from 9-30 June 2021, with episodes released on Wednesdays. You can download and subscribe to the podcast here. This episode is sponsored by Bloomberg Connects.
Julian Opie on... envying other artists
"I recently got a museum poster and on the cover it had a work by an Indian artist called Gauri Gill. And I was completely furious because it was so good. And it was something that, if I had thought about it first, I could have got there. I love that feeling of being outpaced and admiring something because so often one is dismissive and feels annoyed by other art. [...] She's really great. She asks people in small South Indian villages to make masks of themselves and other people in their village and photographs them going about their daily lives."
... his love of Japanese woodcut prints by Utamaro and Hiroshige
"They're just stunning. To be able to evoke so much sense of presence and existence by this fluid line, which is cut from wood. They make sense to me given the way that I draw. I’ve always drawn using a line from the time that I was a teenager—it always seemed to me a very obvious, sensible and satisfying process to have my hand on a piece of paper holding a pencil or felt-tip pen and to look at the world, and to just allow that process to flow. It's something that I can do and seems to come naturally to me. I can move my hand and look at your face and when I look down on the piece of paper, you'll pretty much be there. That's always a good party trick when you're a teenager to impress people."
... Raymond Carver's short stories
"They feel like memories, like a moment where he's left a hotel room and notices someone in the hall. That would be the entire short story. But somehow through the way he tells it, he evokes this sense of reality and presence. And it's that kind of feeling that I want to get to, rather than any sense of inventing a character and bringing that person to life. I have no ability to do that whatsoever, I can only really draw what I see."
... the type of music he likes to listen to when he's working
"There's a French motorway stop I drive past on holiday and in the lavatories the walls are wallpapered with a forest and they play some kind of music mixed with birdsong. And I could stay in there all day, though I'd probably get dragged out. That's the kind of thing that I play when I'm working."
• Julian Opie is at Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery in London from 25 June to 24 October; he has public sculptures in the Plaza del Colegio del Patriarca in Valencia, and in the University of Valencia's La Nau Cultural Centre until 19 of September; Recent Works is at the De Brock Gallery in Knokke-Heist, Belgium until 15 July; and an exhibition opens at the Cristea Roberts Gallery in London from 17 September until 23 October.