Tourists Julian Opie
Find out more about Julian Opie’s Tourists series, browse prints & editions for sale & view the works wanted by active buyers right now.
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.
Why is Tourists important?
Tourists plays into ideas that interest Opie around the sitter refusing the viewers gaze, something that one experiences when wandering the streets of a city. Tourist With Phone shows the subject looking down at his phone, consciously ignoring his surroundings and avoiding the gaze of the viewer. The notion of the sitter refusing to have their portrait made injects the print with a melancholic drama that wouldn’t otherwise be felt if the sitter’s face was seen. Opie is interested in the tradition of portraiture painting that for hundreds of years has been used as a tool by the wealthy to present a certain image of themselves. Tourists subverts this art historical tradition by showing anonymous portraits of unaware sitters.
This series is also indicative of the way in which Opie prefers to depict people who are anonymous to the viewer, rather than finding ‘iconic’ subjects who are instantly recognisable as a particular individual. Opie instead depicts what he sees around him in daily life and it is the mundanity of his subject matter that makes his works so intriguing. In this vain, Opie himself has said, “I think the whole notion we carry of people as examples of types is very interesting… There are some key famous people who become these types and I want to extend that really so that everybody is a type if you draw them in the way that I do.”
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