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Critical Review

French Landscapes is a set of four prints by Julian Opie showing highly realistic images of flowers, trees and nature, three of which are set against an idyllic landscape scene. Unusual in terms of style for Opie, this series is almost photographic, showing minute details like small insects, leaves and petals.

Every print in the series is a vertical rectangular composition which is unusual considering all but one print, Daisies, are landscape images. Across the series, there are focal points, a tree, daisies, flowers, that are shown in the very front foreground of the image, to play with unconventional perspective and cropping techniques. Opie contrasts foreground motifs with the backdrop to dramatic effect, combining this with the vertical compositions to create a set of highly unique prints.

Using computer technology as a key component to this work, Opie produces a set of moving images through lenticular printing. Demonstrating a keen interest in movement and animation throughout his career, Opie often uses movement as a form of realism and to create dynamic images of modern life. Combined with photographic realism, the use of moving image in this series functions to create an uncanniness that toes the line between representation and reality.

Much of Opie’s work has been compared to the digitally rendered landscapes of video games in the way that they mimic a simultaneously familiar yet otherworldly sphere. Like much of Opie’s work, the series is uncanny in the sense of familiarity it strikes within the viewer, thus encouraging the viewer to project their own experiences onto the image. Opie has said of his depersonalised, slick style, “I think my work is about trying to be happy… I want the world to seem like the kind of place you’d want to escape into… Mundane things are just as exciting as all the things you might imagine escaping into.”

Why is the French Landscapes series important?

Taking the same subjects and form of an earlier set of LCD works from 2011, each with the same names, this series is indicative of Opie’s desire to use the same subject across a variety of mediums. Since the mid-1990s, Opie has explored the principles of modular variation across artistic media and art historical genres. The artist’s French Landscapes series is indicative of this investigation, with prints consisting of similar title and each with the same vertical format. Opie emphasises art as a commodity in his replication of post-industrial modes of production and exposes the dehumanising effects of computer technology.

Throughout his career, Opie has created landscape prints from places that he has visited, and this particular series recalls works such as his Japanese Landscapes (2009) and Winter (2012) and Cornish Coast series (2017). Many of his landscape works take the form and composition of traditional landscape paintings, however French Landscapes subverts this with the use of lenticular printing, vertical composition and the dramatic contrast between foreground and background. Additionally in this series, Opie uses contemporary techniques and the vernacular of everyday life to present a twenty-first century version of the classical art historical genre.

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