Characteristic of much of Julian Opie’s work from the mid-2000s, Ruth Smoking 2 is a three-quarter length portrait from 2006, of an art collector named Ruth, who commissioned the portrait herself. This print is rendered in Opie’s typical figurative style with thick bold lines, simplified shapes and bright blocks of colour.
Inspired by the woodblock prints of Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro, as well as early Renaissance painters such as Giovanni Bellini and Fra Angelico, Opie deliberately frames these images of Ruth as three-quarter length portraits to place his work in a historical, painterly context. In referencing classical poses through the medium of computer drawing programs and photography, Opie questions the nature of representation throughout art history.
Opie presents the viewer with the absolute minimum by which the subject can be recognised, with buttons for eyes, two lines for a mouth, and the image created with flat, block colours. The model in this work is fictionalised through the highly stylised rendering of the image and in the presentation of the portrait as a type, rather than as an individual. Working to depersonalise the portrait with his drastically pared-back style, Opie opens the subject to a multitude of interpretations from the viewer.