The first “out leather dyke from California,” as she puts it, to earn a major solo show at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, in 2008, the 52-year-old artist has never shied away from confrontation or candor. For a 1994 self-portrait, she wore a leather hood and had the word pervert cut into her bare chest; a decade later she posed topless as her infant son suckled her nipple. (That work is featured in the group show “Me. Myself. Naked” at Museen Böttcherstrasse, in Bremen, Germany, through February 2, 2014.) Although the construction of identity has long been the subject of her work—she is best known for her documentary-style photographs of archetypical communities including surfers, football players, and lesbian families—Opie has also trained her lens on freeways and rural landscapes. Over the past couple of years, she has shot close artist friends like Matthew Barney, Raymond Pettibon, and Kara Walker against a black background, in hopes of investing her photographs with more narrative mystery. The goal, she explains, is to allow viewers “to load their own sense of story onto an image.” Though she’d never met him before, George Clooney, she decided, fit neatly into her concept. “I told myself this was just another person I had asked to come to the studio,” she says. Of course, his renown as “the go-to romantic guy,” Opie explains, led her to explore the expectations that come with a portrait of a male movie star and to “tweak them.” For starters, she left the actor barefoot and played with poses from John F. Kennedy’s official portraits, among others. A lover of 17th-century painting, Opie looked to Hans Holbein as inspiration for her earliest sittings; lately, Leonardo da Vinci has led her to think about light and how it breaks and illuminates certain areas while pulling others into shadow. Wanting Clooney to appear as if he were emerging from a private reverie, she moved the lights herself and kept the set music-free. “I didn’t want just a stare; it had to be a human moment,” Opie says. “Ultimately, I’m interested in the silence that portraits can offer."
Giorgio Armani suit; Emporio Armani shirt; Omega watch. Styled by Michael Kucmeroski. Purchase this image on Artsy.