Winter arrives in Mumbai

In his first India exhibit, acclaimed visual artist Julian Opie brings a bleak vision of the French countryside

It’s been a spell of clammy evenings, but, as of last week, at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum’s Special Project Space, it has been Winter. The gallery’s walls have transformed into a pristine information age grid of 75 sections, each containing a digital landscape by acclaimed British visual artist Julian Opie. The imposing grid of camouflage colours forms the artist’s 2012 series, Winter. A contrast to his earlier set Summer., when the rural French colours were rich and the trees full, a bleak vision of the French countryside’s Loire valley unravels in these prints. A stroll around the grid is like floating through a flap-book in slow motion.

Opie hopes that when viewed sequentially, on a gallery wall, one is able to recreate the walk in his/her mind
Opie hopes that when viewed sequentially, on a gallery wall, one is able to recreate the walk in his/her mind

Winter. presents a landscape of nothingness. Yet, there are objects that serve as vague landmarks against this austere backdrop — a purple tree, a lone dog or part of an electric pole. The artist says over email, “I took a circular walk around my house in France, as the light was fading on a misty winter’s day. I finished at the same spot I had started from and took a photograph every 20 paces. When the images are seen sequentially — on a gallery wall, or LCD screen — your mind can surge from one empty image to the next, recreating the walk in your mind. At least that was the plan.”

Special Project Space
Pic/Satyajit Desai

As straightforward as his plan may sound, Opie makes his prints behave like film reels. He chooses a particular way of describing the world and movement through it. You could consider Winter. as a movie transposed, rather than projected, on walls; our eyes see still images and our brains intuit movement.

Opie has a penchant for pushing the boundaries of portraiture, sculpture and paintings. Born in 1958, he graduated from Goldsmith’s School of Art, London, where he studied under British conceptual artist Michael Craig-Marti. His solo exhibitions include the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1985), Neues Museum, Nuremburg, Germany (2003), and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2001). As part of its collection, the National Portrait Gallery, London, has six Opie portraits with their MS Paint inspired thick clean lines and flood-fills. Some of his other full body portraits refer back to portraiture greats such as Titian and Van Dyck.

Opie’s favourite pastime, it would seem, is laughing to himself at the illogical boundaries between disciplines and media. Winter., for instance, draws inspiration and references from Google Earth and SatNav systems, flight simulation programmes, computer games as well as Jacob van Ruisdael, a Golden Age master of Dutch landscapes, and 19th century Japanese woodblock prints by Ando Hiroshige.

“I use photography as a notebook and a mirror to bring the images and the information into my studio and onto my computer screen. People often assume that the starting point is a photograph but this is not the case,” Opie explains. His photographic record of the wintry walk was merely the first step to several rounds of fast-paced digital drawing and re-drawing.

Brevity of expression is a trait he seems to have been born with. He recalls teaching himself to draw by closing one eye and tracing over his reflection in a mirror and feels he now does the same, whether it’s with a camera, a computer or a graphics tablet.

“It has always seemed logical to me to do as little as possible to achieve the maximum of reality and effect,” says Opie.
The exhibition, part of the British Council’s Re-imagine Arts Initiative, travels to Goa next. The artist considers himself “lucky enough” to exhibit widely in India, especially since he believes, “This project depicts a cold, quiet Northern European landscape, which I imagine, will contrast with the coming venues. I hope the contrast will be refreshing.”

Where: Special Project Space, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Byculla East
When: Till September 13
Entry: Rs 5 (for children), Rs 10 (for adults) 

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