Monday, 13 June 2011

Julian Opie, Alan Cristea Gallery

Have you ever seen a dead body? It's the most freaky thing to see the human body at rest. Movement is the fourth dimension in art.
(Julian Opie, from The Guardian)

It's entirely reasonable to think of Julian Opie's work as part of the Pop Art tradition, given its colourful, bold style and its high profile use as the cover art to Blur's album The Best Of (right). I think of Julian Opie in the same associative breath as Patrick Caulfield, an artist also with a penchant for colour, strong line and abstraction.

And so it is with a fair bit of the art in this exhibition, split over the two adjacent Alan Cristea galleries on Cork St. in central London. The convention of the Blur cover is recreated in 2005-06 portraits of Ruth smoking/with cigarette (2005-06) and the more recent style of representing the sitter with a simple circle for a head is also the focus of conventional portraiture.

What is more striking in this exhibition though is the use of various different media to introduce animation to the work. The LED installation Walk (2009) is a highly minimalist version of the installation many will be familiar with as dominating the box office atrium of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. There are also a pair of forgettable video pieces. Above all though there are a number of 'lenticular acrylic panels', paintings produced in a form familiar from tube or bus adverts which change depending on the viewing angle. In the series [X] walking (2010), anything up to twenty different arrangments of the figure have been used to create a comprehensive rendition of movement. Inside the gallery (best seen by actively walking past) these are highly effective work, not least as the body shifts are so well observed. I wish there was more of this, although the only other piece in the same manner is the excellent Shahnoza dancing in a white dress (2008), a seductively blurred tetralogic assembly of paintings (of a Soho dancer). It's a really striking piece. In a visual vernacular that is generally extremely simple and narratively opaque - what you see is what you get, figuratively speaking - the movement and the diaphanous overlay provides a depth and elusiveness which makes the piece utterly seductive, even without the careful recording of Shahnoza's movement.

There is less successful new work though. For all that Opie's fixing or animation of motion in simple line form works nicely, the extrapolation of creating silhouettes (of the gallery staff) is really rather prosaic. The narrative series of more detailed, realist portraits Elena and Cressie get ready for the party (2011) also seems like a wrong turn. It's the line abstractions, whether static or animated that are mesmerising and so memorable.

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