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Tourists

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Critical Review

Exemplary of Julian Opie’s signature portraiture style, the Tourists series from 2014 shows various people on the streets of London in colourful clothes and with no facial details. Opie uses his graphic visual language to create this series with the prints rendered in very thick, bold outlines and blocks of bright colour.

Opie produced this series from a selection of photographs taken on a family day out to the South Bank in London where there are always crowds of different people. Using these photographs, Opie simplifies the shapes and flattens the colours on the computer to anonymise the sitters and create an abstracted image.

Each portrait in the Tourists series presents a distinct individual with personality, despite the fact that their identity remains unknown due to the lack of facial features. Conveying an idea of person or a predetermined ‘type’, the passers-by depicted in this series present an aura of familiarity, instantly recognisable to the viewer as an archetypal image of someone in London. Throughout much of Opie’s work, the artist strikes an interesting balance between the familiar and the unknown through the use of a depersonalised, slick style rendered through computer technology.

Opie explains why he enjoys depicting familiar scenes stating, 'Art often focuses on the bizarre and tried to get past what is normal, to undermine and confound, which is great but I like to deal with what is normal, what is engraved on the back of our eyes and brain, what we use to navigate, what we know, what makes up the palettes of the experienced world.'

Created through the format of three-quarter length portraits, Opie’s Tourists series is reminiscent of old master paintings in the traditional poses of the figures. Opie however makes these otherwise traditional portraits casual and modern through his use of subject matter and flattened, bright colour. Using the medium of computer drawing programmes and photography, the Tourists series explores the traditional portraiture genre in a uniquely modern way.