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  • British Artist Julian Opie Creates Portrait Mural for Wall at WAM

    (WORCESTER, Mass.) - Identified only by first name and job title, four faces from British artist Julian Opie's world stare out from the huge 67-foot-span over Worcester Art Museum's Renaissance Court.

    Worcester Art Museum commissioned Opie to create a portrait mural for The Wall at WAM, an ongoing series of mural exhibitions. Opie's wall project, installed the week of April 8, will be on view at the Museum through January 2003 and coincides with the major fall 2002 portrait exhibition, Mask or Mirror? A Play of Portraits, which opens Oct. 5.

    Opie's art responds to the notion that everything in life can be reproduced and purchased. He produces his images in a range of sizes and formats to fit the needs of any consumer or setting-from small C-type prints, large images in vinyl, aluminum cutouts, modular sculptures, billboards, window stickers, and CD-ROMs, to the inkjet wallpaper used for the Wall at WAM. Fabricated by a commercial printer in London, the mural was installed at the Museum by professional wallpaper hangers.

    Composed of his characteristically simplified lines and shapes, Opie's portraits were rendered through computer technology. Opie begins his artistic process by photographing his subjects, and then, using Adobe Illustrator software, he edits the images to their graphic essentials. The resulting portraits are like icons that serve to identify the individuals with the least information possible. “Opie's linear vocabulary parallels that of public signage in buildings and on roadways-it tells you what you need to know as immediately and succinctly as possible,” said Susan Stoops, Worcester Art Museum's curator of contemporary art. “We recognize the visual shorthand of Opie's world as a code for our world-a place we have come to know increasingly through reproduction.”

    The four apparently generic portrait faces in the Worcester Art Museum mural are neither exchangeable nor arbitrary but represent the individual features and personal styles of people Opie knows. Kate, model and Stephanie, insurance broker were commissioned portraits, while Maho, gallery director and Mark, writer are subjects he has photographed several times before. Collectively, these four individuals came to be a “group” for the Worcester project by virtue of compositional considerations and formal contrasts, such as styles of hair, eyeglasses, clothing necklines, shapes of faces, and gender. By titling his portraits by first name and profession, Opie personalizes the portrait process and gives viewers just enough information to begin to speculate about the individual behind the image.

    Born in London in 1958, Opie attended Goldsmith's School of Art from 1979-1982. Numerous solo projects include the Lisson Gallery, London; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Kunsthalle, Bern; Hayward Gallery, London; Barbara Krakow Gallery, Boston; Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. He has participated in group exhibitions in cities around the world, including Sydney, Amsterdam, New Delhi and Seoul. Opie is represented by Barbara Krakow Gallery in Boston and Lisson Gallery in London. He lives and works in London.

    This exhibition is supported by the Don and Mary Melville Contemporary Art Fund and Mr. and Mrs. John Shea. The media sponsor is Worcester Magazine.

    Museum Background

    A cultural jewel of New England, the Worcester Art Museum first opened to the public in 1898. Its exceptional 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Its extensive four-season studio arts program enrolls 6,000 adult and youth students each year. Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (sponsored by Commerce Bank), and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time college students with current ID, and FREE for Members and all youth 17 and under. Admission is also FREE for everyone on Saturday mornings, 10 a.m.-noon (sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company). The Museum is located at 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass., easily accessible from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), Route 290 and Route 9. Expanded parking is available near entrances on Salisbury, Lancaster and Tuckerman streets. For more information, call (508) 799-4406.