Julian Opie - Evening & Day Editions London Wednesday, September 14, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Depicted using only the most essential lines, Julian Opie manages to convey expression, emotion, and the human experience through his highly simplified figures. Belgium is comprised of four groups of four people rendered in acrylic outlines. In each cluster, the overlapping figures are frozen mid-stride and are facing different directions, giving the impression that they are walking through a crowd or crossing a busy road. Immediately it appears that the figures are situated in an urban environment, despite the artist providing no visual markers pertaining to their surroundings. Human movement through space – how it is conveyed by the artist and understood by the viewer – is the only indicator.


    Shaida Walking by Julian Opie, Carnaby Street. Image: Stephen Chung / Alamy Stock Photo
    Shaida Walking by Julian Opie, Carnaby Street. Image: Stephen Chung / Alamy Stock Photo

    Opie relies on the viewer to deduce the inner narrative of his figures through subtle differentiations in their body language. Even though Opie’s figures are lacking facial features, the slightly downcast head of one person, or the nonchalant gesture of placing hands in jacket pockets of another, keep us guessing at their personalities and emotional states. Be it the bag they carry – a briefcase, a handbag, or a small purse - or the clothes they are wearing – a hooded coat, a bodywarmer or a button-front jacket – Opie invites the viewer to engage and identity with the people we see before us. Through simple lines and block colours, Opie conveys the nuances of human experience and encourages us to consider how little information we need in order to understand and codify the people we encounter. We are invited to interpret, or judge based on the suggestion of appearance, and forced to acknowledge the limitations and dangers of preconception.


    Opie elevates his microcosms of contemporary crowds, clusters of everyday people, both figuratively and literally. Each group is placed on a plinth-like shelf, mimicking the display of marble and bronze busts of historic figures. Usually reserved for the most revered works in the art historical canon, Opie declares that normal people, and the drudgery of urban life are equally, if not more, important studies worthy of examination and veneration. Opie’s placement of his figures on shelves, slightly distanced from the wall, allows their outlines to cast deep shadows, adding a further sculptural element to their form. In the same way that nuanced details can be deduced from his simplified figures, Opie believes shadows can be similarly informative, meaning the effect produced in Belgium is twofold.

    'I sometimes think about a shadow. If you look at someone’s shadow, you can see their character or what mood they’re in' —Julian Opie

    Opie’s practice starts with photography. Either the artist himself or a photographer he collaborates with capture many images of people on the street. Next, a highly selective process of reviewing the photographs for the perfect models gets underway. In an interview describing this method, Opie explained, “I need people to be in a certain moment in their stride, a moment that is balanced with their knees bent and their weight on one foot. So that rules out two-thirds of the photographs. I’ve got to feel like the figure would be great to draw with a good pose with clothes that are clear. From that group, I’ll draw all the people who are drawable and then I’ll play with them and mix and match them into groups”. Belgium is a cumulation of the most suitable figures from the artist’s trip to Belgium in 2021.



A complete set of four sculptures, each comprising four acrylic figures, with accompanying four white Corian shelves, all contained in the original cardboard boxes with foam cutouts.
each installed 64.8 x 60 x 10.2 cm (25 1/2 x 23 5/8 x 4 in.)
One figure from each set signed, dated and numbered 24/30 in silver or black ink on the reverse (there were also 5 artist's proof sets), published by Cristea Roberts Gallery, London.

Full Cataloguing

£25,000 - 35,000 ‡♠

Sold for £27,720

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 14 - 15 September 2022