With Julian Opie's suite of landscape prints from 2012 titled "Winter", on display at the Sunaparanta Centre for the Arts in Panjim until 28 October, Goa has the opportunity to view the work of a contemporary master. Since the 1980s, Opie has gained prestige as one of the most influential artists on the British scene. Stirring up a new mood in the world of art and image-making, his work seamlessly traverses the boundaries that relegated mass market to kitsch and placed a high aesthetic value to practices within the traditional fine arts.
Trained as a sculptor from Goldsmith's College of Art in London, Opie belonged to a tight-knit batch of students that posed provocative visual critiques on practices of consumption in contemporary culture; this group came to be known as the YBAs, or Young British Artists. His art is conceptual, minimal and pop, all combined; his influences encompass the whole gamut of associations in the history of images and image-making. His intention is to reveal the logics of visual perception. Opie borrows and re-frames from the classical masters as much as from contemporary virtual technologies and the banal aesthetic of street signage.
"The slick precision creates a mood of a 'floating world' and brings to life the brisk crispness of the French winter."
Glancing upon the gallery walls, my mind jumps through thoughts and random associations. Ah landscape! I conjure art history, not only Opie's place within it, but the whole genealogy of its representation cascades -- from cave paintings to the renaissance, to enlightened 18th century aquatints, to colonial mappings and sci-fi movies. In the history of landscape depiction, travellers and adventurers attempted to capture the essence of faraway lands naturalistically, the romance of the picturesque, exotic milieus and colourful vistas.
Almost every instance of landscape depiction can be read as a claim of ownership, a desire to possess what one has rested one's eyes on, to inhabit, to nurture. The struggle and conflict in this desire lay in the truth that some lands were not up for grabs. Desire and conflict -- the psychological push and pull -- submerged the "cultured" world in a madness that lasted centuries; ugly wars and battles were fought. The market economy was born, and based upon this idea that one wants what one cannot have, and our socio-political identities became heightened and fraught in these aspirational longings. This history of the world lends everything to our current state of knowledge, aesthetics, tastes and notions of belonging to one's nation or imperial state; constructions of citizenship and Otherness were formulated within such visual representations of a "manifest destiny".
For those not fortunate enough to adventure overseas, a painting was the virtual reality of the time. Opie's installation reminds us of humankind's constant and consistent need to plot and map our footprint or location, and acquire a position of perspective -- visual, aural, existential. In the contemporary context, satellite imagery and Google mapping becomes a tool that Opie readily employs.
In Opie's minimal representations of nature's bounty, its layered textures are stripped down to give way to fluid, rounded shapes, and filled with winter hues. With every bend in the road, the light shifts and hazes through branches, a simple stroke of line shapes the contours in the horizon or structures that are passed by. Every principle of perspective and colour theory is applied -- things at a distance are faint and cool, and things in the middle and foreground are dark and warm. One can, as Opie intends, step into the picture(s) and claim rights of passage.
"With our eyes we walk, as Opie suggests, logging a-day-in-the-life-of-a-landscape experienced through light and feeling."
How might one represent a landscape today, in age of the speed of light and satellite imagery, and still conjure romance? How can a computer-processed image bring forth that same longing for escape into the romantic vista that painterly painting once did? Opie, with this slick, clean, precise installation of 75 prints, laminated on glass panels, and mounted in a gridded format ever-so-slightly off the wall, inserts himself into the genre of landscape depiction. The slick precision creates a mood of a "floating world" and brings to life the brisk crispness of the French winter. The registration is perfect. The unframed glass offers the effect of windows to the outside. There's a sense of floating also in the perceptual movement of the eye as it travels from panel to panel horizontally, from top to bottom. With our eyes we walk, as Opie suggests, logging a-day-in-the-life-of-a-landscape experienced through light and feeling. A photograph is taken every 20 steps of his walk, digitally manipulated and re-presented as a soft graphic image; bold shapes, suggestive of prints on camouflage gear; and the mis-en-scene of a video game or animated feature.
"Winter" is brought to Sunaparanta Centre for the Arts, in Panjim, Goa under the patronage of Raj and Dipti Salgaocar, in partnership with the British Council, as part of a travelling exhibition to India. Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi served as curatorial adviser for this show, which will be on display until 28 October, 2015.