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You Are Driving (Fast)

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Imagine You Are Driving (Fast)

Julian Opie

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Critical Review

Inspired by the idea of travel and motion, Julian Opie’s Imagine You Are Driving (Fast) series is a set of prints featuring views of an open racetrack alongside the portraits of Formula One drivers. Rendered in the artist’s simplified style, using block colour and bold lines, Opie presents a seemingly endless sequence of images of the disappearing road ahead to convey the anonymity and monotony of driving.

Each print in Imagine You Are Driving (Fast) shows the road ahead from the perspective of the Formula One driver, reduced to the two-dimensional view through a windscreen.

Opie therefore invites the viewer to step into the shoes of the driver whose portrait he depicts and effectively replicates the feeling of passing through a landscape quickly. Paired with the series’ title, the world Opie represents in these images is suggestive of computer driving games where the participant goes on a virtual journey. This video game aesthetic is typical of Opie’s landscape work from the late 1990s that encourages the viewer to step into a stylised representation of the world.

Half of the prints in the series show the drivers wearing crash helmets that cover their faces and the other half of the series shows the drivers without helmets on. Imagine You Are Driving (Fast)/Rio/Helmet shows how Opie uses the helmet as a way to hint to real-world advertisements and brands, featuring the Honda logo and a reflection of the Lucky Strike logo in the image. Producing a computer generated image that uses flat, saturated colour and simplified shapes, Opie mimics the visual language of mass media and advertising. Appropriating and personalising brand logos as part of the image, Opie offers the viewer a commodified and a deliberately bland image that reflects everyday objects and experiences.

Imagine You Are Driving (Fast) strikes an interesting balance between the real and the imagined through Opie’s highly stylised landscapes that are largely featureless, juxtaposed with the portrait of a driver. The computer-generated images are indicative of Opie’s slick, impersonal style that alludes to the videogame aesthetic, however it is this detached view that we are presented with that rekindles the sense of the real and familiar within the viewer. Opie’s depiction of the endless road ahead perfectly captures the felt experience of driving fast on a motorway or driving track in the sense that the car both liberates and distances us from the world. Opie frames nature within the artifice of a computer-generated image, thus the artificial is treated as if it were real by the viewer.

Why is the Imagine You Are Driving (Fast) series important?

Imagine You Are Driving (Fast) is an important example of the way in which Opie strives to capture time and experience itself through landscape rather than creating an image that is recognisable as a particular place. Of this Opie has stated that, ‘I tried to see how it would be possible to draw a landscape that was not a landscape, but a period of landscape.’ Indeed, in each print Opie only shows a thin strip of land so that it becomes impossible to tell what country he is depicting. Each landscape is dramatically flat, but with a sense of promise with middle hills in the very far distance. In using a non-specific visual language that renders the artist’s touch invisible, Opie effectively captures the way in which we overlook subtlety and detail whilst travelling at such a fast pace.

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