Walk the talk

Published: 22 October, 2012 11:53 IST | Soma Das |

British artist Julian Opie is exhibiting his recent collection of artworks, specially produced for India. His images capture different kinds of people, as they tread the city's streets, giving us a snapshot of life in a busy metro

Mumbaikars are the latest muse for British visual artist Julian Opie who will be showing images of people from all walks of life as they literally walk on the street. From a sari-clad dusky lady carrying her child in her arms to the iPod-wielding teenager, woman wearing the headscarf and a man smoking under a umbrella, each personality figures in Opie’s recent artworks, which will be exhibited at a solo exhibition at Sakshi Gallery.

Woman in the rain with headscarf

Opie is renowned for being a part of the New British Sculpture movement. His works draw from classical forms and idioms, yet these are rendered in a contemporary fashion. His approach of distilling ideas and content to the minimum and still saying much, is reckoned to be highly instrumental in expanding the vocabulary of art.

Excerpts from an interview:

Tell us about the theme of your upcoming exhibition.
I make exhibitions in response to the venue — the architecture and the setting of the gallery, museum or public space. Making art is like mining. You dig and see what you find, and if it’s good, you keep digging in that direction. At the moment, I am expanding into new areas of portraiture while also spending a lot of time making landscapes. The Mumbai exhibition will show both these themes and at points these merge. The landscape project is all about walking — walking through space. It is the view outwards, from the body and the individual. The paintings of people walking are the view from the outside looking back at people. The rest of the works are portraits of faces.

What inspired you to exhibit in India and showcase a special series on Mumbai walkers?
I was not inspired to show in Mumbai, I was asked (to). Whatever I am working on offers various possibilities and when I started to plan the show I immediately thought to expand a project I had started in London, which is to photograph strangers on the street and make paintings of them.
A person in full stride has a certain narrative and glorious dynamic about them. The striding figure has a long artistic tradition dating back to Assyria and Egypt. People on the street are not posing and are oblivious to me. I first drew people in the city of London and then in the rain outside my studio. I thought it would be ideal to draw people on the streets of Mumbai and see what contrasts and similarities arose. Sakshi Gallery helped me hire a photographer, Naiyer Ghufran, and under my direction he took some hundreds of photos of people walking in Mumbai. Over the summer I drew three of these and they became the paintings that will be in the show. I often work very last minute, which is stressful but means that the shows are fresh and specifically designed for the space.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself; what drew you towards art?
I started exhibiting in London, the rest of Europe and America since I was 24 and now, I am 53 years old. I have drawn and sculpted and painted every day since I was about eleven years old. Each work is a reaction to the successes and failures of the last. I have always loved to look at and think about other people’s art too. It makes little difference to me when the art was made. I feel as engaged in Roman portrait busts as I do in Japanese Manga or 17th century Dutch landscape paintings. I go through different obsessions and interests of course. At the moment it’s Egyptian and Roman art that fascinates me most. My mother always drew and sketched and we had reproductions of paintings around the house. Art has always seemed a natural thing to me like singing or going for a walk.

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