Julian Opie In Milan Botticelli Made Simple

New Italian Show A Hit With Public And Critics

The Lisson Gallery’s Milan branch is currently mounting an exhibition of recent work by the highly regarded British artist, Julian Opie. It opened on 18th of November and has already made a splash with the public and critics.
Julian Opie is one of the most significant artists of his generation. Drawing from influences as diverse as billboard signs, contemporary dance, classical portraiture and sculpture, and working in a variety of media, he reconstructs his impressions of our contemporary surroundings in a concise, pictorial language.  Images, memories and sensory experiences from our encounters with the world are distilled into signs that in turn encourage the spectator to reflect on the nature of reality.  The human figure walking, dancing, resting, alone or in crowds  is a motif in Opie’s work and his exhibition in Milan takes this theme as its focus.   
In 2009, Opie collaborated with Royal Ballet choreographer, Wayne McGregor, on the production, Infra, designing a moving LED tableau that provided a backdrop and counterpoint for the dancers.  This collaboration inspired Opie to continue working with trained ballet dancers.  In Ed and Marianela. 9. and Eric and Sarah. 3., Opie presents two pairs of dancers, mid performance, frozen in time and yet, conversely, full of movement. The aluminium sculpture, Ed Marianela. 9., is freestanding and readable from both sides.  The spectator is invited to walk around it, viewing it from different angles; an interaction that in turn echoes its implied movement.  Caterina dancing naked. 11. is comprised of solid cubes of granite composed like building blocks that allow just enough space for the drawn, naked form to stride across the surface.  The figure imbues the sculpture with a sense of unbridled energy and palpable movement that belies the solidity and materiality of the stone. 
The walking figure is central to Opie’s practice.  Echoing the cityscape and referencing the ubiquitous imagery of street signage, the two dimensional, monolithic LED sculpture is made up of pulsing, light emitting diodes delineating a two-dimensional figure that, like a snapshot of a busy street, walks in an endless and unspecific journey. 
While Opie produces works in diverse media including computer animation, LEDs, granite, aluminium, vinyl and silkscreen, Mary Horlock has emphasized that his focus has always been drawing, and this is evident in the rigour, immediacy and economy of his line (1).  The drawings he creates are not simply reductive however: starting with the line, Opie provides only the essentials; a refined purity that gives the spectator just enough information to reformulate and understand the experience. 
The public and performative nature of the more strident, dancing and walking works, is in stark contrast to the quiet, still intimacy of the two portraits of Aniela: Opie’s wife.  The vinyl work, Aniela disrobed 1., observes the subject at her toilet, in a private moment of undress: the deep red background intimating the boudoir.  The pose, reminiscent of classical statuary, lends the work a serenity and timelessness.  In Aniela at the spring., Opie echoes Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, an inescapably classic motif in turn reinforced by the inclusion of an amphora.  Unlike the dancers and walking figure, these works are comparatively modest  Aniela either turns away from the spectator or attempts to cover her nakedness – and one is reminded of the uniqueness of Opie’s relationship to this subject.  Despite these references to classicism, more usually associated with the rarified and museological, Opie’s use of the plastic language of ubiquitous,
city signage establishes these works as unequivocally contemporary.

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