Julian Opie discusses landscape in a piece originally published in The Guardian in 2013, on the occasion of the group exhibition Looking At The View at Tate Britain, London.
There are hills in the distance. 1996
It is hard to now imagine a world where there were no moving images in public - where virtually no moving three-dimensional graphics existed anywhere other than hand-drawn animation movies at the cinema. If my work is "about" anything it is about looking, about my looking and about other people's looking, about how looking allows me to know the world and know that I exist within it. Looking, engaging, drawing, using eyes and brain and learnt experience. Anything relating to this, anything that changes the rules or breaks the rules and reveals more, jumps out at me and captures my attention. A shadow silhouette, bright sunlight sparkling on water, a turning radar that appears to turn the wrong way, such things break the logic of looking and in doing so reveal the construct behind looking and behind perceived reality.
In the early 1990's I walked down Tottenham Court road and was struck by the stacked computer screens in the shop windows - they all played screen savers - of which there were a limited supply. This was public moving imagery but not hand drawn stories. Rather these represented windows into another world, a world with similar logic and mapping to our own world, a similar sense of predictability and even boredom. The images were three dimensional and usually depicted a maze like endless space. Space for it's own sake, just because it was there within the logic and the mathematics of the computers.
I had been drawing in a way that echoed computer graphics and commercial design but now there seemed to be on offer a way of directly plunging into the construction of these spaces and images.
I bought computer games, early clunky low resolution ones but three dimensional spaces that one could enter and move around within, photograph. I would stand as Lara Croft and gaze across ruined temples and forested valleys forgetting what she was supposed to be finding and just looking at the constructed landscape. Brain and eye working overtime sharing logic and triggering human reactions. I also bought flight simulation packages and flew over pixelated, endless landscapes defined by the low turning triangles of the hills in the distance.
In 1995 I was offered the house and studio of Alexander Calder in the Loire valley France as a 6 month residency. I rather fell in love with the landscape, the low rolling hills and valleys with richly coloured fields and dense, small forests. It was very European and normal, very clear and visible to me. I cycled and mopeded and drove and walked endless quiet French A roads and forest tracks and open paths across the fields. The landscapes merged, one describing the other and slowly formed a singular language digital and real. The three rich, yellowish bands of green, echoing the three main EEC crops, could define the turning horizontal plane while low blue distant hills, the dusty blue grey of the Loire valley, divided the flat plane from the vertical sky. No clouds were needed as the contrasting blue read clearly as open space.
"There are hills in the distance" is a wall painting but really it is a space maker, a space defining technique. Objects or people placed within this space can use the painting as a defining backdrop. As in the flight simulation program, an indication of land is required in order for the pilot to orient him/herself. Clearly the defining world need not be varied or detailed but deeply familiar enough to your eye and brain to trigger the right responses and emotions.
Radio Wind Tyres. 2000
It is noticeable that most old master landscape paintings, particularly Dutch ( Jacob Van Ruisdael being the brilliant epitome ) use a path moving into the picture plane as a way of composing the space and drawing your eye into the mid-ground and then on to the far horizon. The path into the painting acts both visually and as a story and as an invitation. Any path is tempting, it should lead somewhere, it should allow access. Making art is a lot about gaining access for me, about reaching out and grasping reality, touching the world and a road offers this but at the same time constantly postpones it.
I was born in London but I grew up in Oxford and we would drive back to London most weekends up through the Chiltern hills and through High Wycombe on the winding A40 until the M40 was built in the late 60's. Since then motorway driving has defined my sense of distance and the surface of the planet as the view from the window of a passenger plane would do in later years. I have driven cars since the age of 17 and during the 90's, looking for something, I drove around Europe a great deal on the interconnecting network of high speed, post-war motorways.
I don't draw much while out of the studio, I use photographs to bring images and views back to the studio. Like most people now, I carry a camera with me at all times but it was more recently that I actually set out on trips specifically to take photos of the passing world. One of the hard things on these trips is to know when to stop and take a photo and stopping on a motorway is a big time investment. In the end I realised that I did not need to stop, I could simply continue driving all day and take photos from the wheel. This seemed more honest. Not the edited self conscious "view" that is sometimes even marked on road maps with it's own symbol but rather the ever changing ever constant drivers seat view of the gently curving or straight section of multi-laned dark grey highway with the thin strips of layered landscape on either side. That seemed to me to be what Europe looked like. Where is this ? anywhere, on the motorway - location only defined by which side of the road you are driving.
Some of the works in this series are accompanied by soundtracks that play quietly from the frame of the painting. This picture alludes to the sounds of the image with the title. The sounds are stated as a list that is endlessly repeatable. In lectures I often point out that bats don't listen to echoes they see the world around them using their sensory equipment just like we do, they probably even see in colour with colour perhaps defining the texture of a surface. Sound locates us and pictures the world for us as much as light bouncing off objects does. Drawing with sound is not easy or natural for me and I have only got as far as using natural recorded sounds or commissioning pieces of music.
Julian Opie is included in a group show at Tate Britain titled Looking At The View opening 12 February until 2 June 2013