Japanese art, notably Hokusai or Hiroshige, has inspired many significant artists, such as Van Gogh, Monet, Whistler, and Degas. This inspiration is shown in different ways; Van Gogh liked to develop or copy the techniques he observed from the prints he collected, whereas artists like Monet, Whistler, and Degas were inspired by the content in the Japanese art, such as bridges, the intricate clothing, or women brushing their hair.
Today, Japanese art influences even more artists, and in even more ways; one of these artists is Julian Opie, who currently has an exhibition in the Lisson Gallery until the 25th August. Obviously Opie has a very different style from the artists mentioned above, but he still has connections with the art of Hiroshige or Hokusai; like them, most of his work has black outlines for the shapes, including his signature style of showing faces with very little detail, as seen on the cover of the Blur: The Best Of album, which made this style famous.
This connection might not have been intentional, but some of his newer art has a clear Japanese influence; paintings such as View of Lake Motosu and Mount Fuji from Route 300, or View of Nambu Bridge from Route 52, both from 2007, are directly influenced by the work of Hiroshige; they even have Japanese writing on them, as would Japanese prints. Opie also made animations in 2007, in the same style as the paintings above; except, being animations, they add more depth to the style of Hiroshige and Hokusai, by having the grass or trees blowing in the wind, and by showing ripples or sparkles in the water.
With other work it is harder to see the Japanese influence, such as the animations Evening Star and Jet Stream, both shown at the Lisson Gallery, but they definitely have a feeling similar to the prints of Hiroshige. Like Hiroshige’s landscape prints, the landscapes in Opie’s animations are in a vertical format, with a roughly flat horizon in the lower half of the frame, and a toned sky. There is also a plant in the foreground of both of these works, on which your eyes focus, which is similar to Hiroshige’s Plum Estate. Nevertheless, all of Opie’s animations still have a sense of his signature style; they mostly have layers of different tones, instead of them gradually changing, and some objects have dark outlines.
These animations seem to have come from a style developed from his previous Japanese paintings, and with a unique format, inspired by advertising, as one might see by the escalators in a tube station. They are tranquil and natural works, like the work of Hiroshige, but with more depth, added by small everyday features. Natural sounds are also played with the works in the exhibition, making the animations even more captivating. Opie has taken advantage of modern technology, and has added a depth to his Japanese inspired works that previous artists have been unable to do.
Don’t miss this exquisite exhibition.
Text by Brigid Bernard