Ruth Julian Opie
Find out more about Julian Opie’s ‘Ruth’ series, browse prints & editions for sale & view the works wanted by active buyers right now.
Julian Opie’s Ruth series features a set of commissioned portraits of an art collector who lives in Geneva named Ruth. As is typical of many of Opie’s portraits, the first collection of prints Ruth With Cigarette (2005) show three-quarter and half-length portraits of the sitter depicted in thick bold lines, set against bright colour backdrops and with a blank circle as a head. The second group of prints Ruth Smoking from 2006, features the same set of images rendered in more detail, notably Ruth’s face is drawn with eyes, nose and mouth and her long, smooth hair is shown.
The Ruth series is rendered in Opie’s graphic style, characteristic of his work during the mid-2000s, and in each portrait the sitter looks out to the viewer, cigarette in hand, wearing an open shirt or her bra. Though the sitter looks out directly, in these prints Opie shows Ruth’s body turned away, not engaged with the viewer thus conveying an aura of casual aloofness.
To create these images Opie worked with the model Ruth to photograph her in a multitude of different poses, with varying outfits and accessories. Through this process Opie naturally builds rapport with his sitters, allowing him to capture their personality more clearly in the final works. For this particular set of images Opie used an electric turn-table that Ruth stood on and slowly turned as the artist took his photos, resulting in a multitude of varying poses. Opie then chooses his favourite images to manipulate and abstract on the computer to create a bold image made up of simplified shapes.
Ruth Smoking is representative of Opie’s strong interest in Ukiyo-e, a genre of Japanese woodblock prints from the 18th and 19th centuries that often depicted female beauties not meant for exhibition. Opie’s particular interest in Ukiyo-e artist Kitagawa Utamaro comes through in his depiction of eroticised subject matter and use of flattened colour, cropped format and simplified shapes. The artist has explained, ‘His [Utamaro’s] models were radically cropped close up, the faces were very simply drawn, in some ways always very similar, but with great presence and individuality.’
Why are Ruth prints important?
Opie’s portraits of Ruth are important in the way that they engage with longstanding ideas that have characterised the art historical genre by questioning what intrinsic elements are needed to convey a person’s character. The Ruth Smoking series 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.
Framing these images of Ruth as three-quarter and half-length portraits, Opie references historical, classic poses and places his work within a painterly context. Using the medium of computer drawing programmes and photography, the Ruth series explores the traditional portraiture genre in a uniquely modern way. Furthermore, Opie’s use of computer technology aims to distance model and viewer through a depersonalised style that places the model in a fictional framework. This fictional role is then recognised as a ‘type’ by the viewer, allowing for a multitude of interpretations.
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