Ruth With Cigarette 1 is a print from Julian Opie’s Ruth With Cigaretteseries (2005) that shows a drastically pared-down portrait of the sitter, Ruth, an art collector living in Geneva. Opie shows the sitter with a floating blank circle as a head, and this image is rendered with thick bold lines, simplified shapes and flattened block colours.
The print is a half-length portrait of a woman who looks out to the viewer, cigarette in hand and her shirt open to show her underwear. Opie engages with the traditional art historical genre of portraiture through his use of pose and composition and with the fact that this is a commissioned portrait staged to show the sitter in a certain way. At the same time, Opie turns the art historical context on its head by using a photograph which is then digitally edited to produce a simplified pictogram that is decidedly modern.
Opie’s interest in finding a standardised version of the human form comes to the fore in his Ruth With Cigaretteseries. The faceless figures have no necks, and their hands are reduced down so far that smaller details like fingers are not visible in the portraits. These images are reminiscent of the signs found on lavatory doors and the sitter’s character is made distinguishable only through her pose and clothing.