Ever since his poignant sculpture of his dead father’s small, naked, vulnerable body (Dead Dad 1996-7) caused such awe and admiration in the 'Sensation' exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1997, Ron Mueck’s work has come to epitomise a renewed interest among artists in a hyper-realistic sculptural representation of the human body. His work concentrates almost exclusively on the human figure, tracing our passage through life from birth to death. All his sculptures are made with an obsessive attention to realism, right down to the pores in the skin and the hair on the body. Mueck’s sculptures are so realistic that people find it hard to believe at first sight that they are not real.
Ron Mueck was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1958, but has lived in London for over 30 years now. He honed his extraordinary skills in making lifelike figures during several years in film and television. He worked on The Muppets and was responsible for the special effects in David Bowie’s film Labyrinth.
This show in the Royal Scottish Academy Building included a newly commissioned work of a giant baby lying on the floor, as well as four important earlier sculptures.
Ron Mueck was a collaboration between the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Foundation Cartier in Paris, as well as the Aros Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
Image: Ron Mueck, Two Women (in progress), © Ron Mueck
About The Artist
In 1996, Mueck's career turned to fine art when he made a sculpture of Pinocchio for the painter Paula Rego, his mother-in-law. The sculpture was noticed by Charles Saatchi who, a year later, included Mueck in his Britart extravaganza Sensation at London's Royal Academy. His beautiful sculpture Dead Dad — an astonishingly lifelike (if half-size) sculpture of a male corpse lying on the floor — drew considerable attention.
In 2000, the National Gallery, London, invited him to become artist-in-residence. A year later, he presented the monumental, 25ft-high Boy at the 49th Venice Biennale (a work which had previously been on show at the Millennium Dome).
Ron Mueck started out as a puppet maker for Australian children's TV, and settled in London (via the United States) working for Jim Henson on Sesame Street and The Muppets and supervising the special effects for two feature films: Dreamchild (1985) and Labyrinth(1986). He still lives and works in London.
About His Work
At first, it’s the sheer technical brilliance of his figures that impresses. From the stubble on the chin, to a mole on the neck, Mueck’s attention to detail is breath-taking. The real power, however, is in the way he uses pose, gesture and scale to engage our emotions and enter into the psyche of the figures he depicts.
The suspension of disbelief is vital to his overarching concern, which is to capture those key moments in our passage through life which represent the important stages of our changing self-consciousness and relationship with the world. In his work to date, Mueck has dealt with the themes of birth, infancy, youth, adolescence, sexual maturity, middle age, old age and death.
Closely connected with his exploration of the Ages of Man is Mueck’s interest in human types, temperaments and emotional states of mind. Again, Mueck combines the individual and often personal with traditional metaphors. The woman in In Bed (2005), for example, is a classic image of melancholia.
About The Artist's Technique
The magical appeal of Mueck’s hyper-realistic sculptures is the result of a long, meticulous process, which begins with the crafting of a series of small clay models, letting him decide on the figure’s position. When the pose is determined, he makes decisions about scale, often making a series of drawings in different sizes. Next, Mueck sculpts the figure in clay, incorporating all the fine details of expression and skin texture that appear in the finished work. If the artist is making a very large figure (like In Bed), he first creates a metal frame which is then covered by wire mesh and covered in plaster strips before being covered with modelling clay.
When the clay figure is finished, a mould of the sculpture is made using silicone (or in the case of larger works, fibreglass). If using fibreglass, individual hairs are glued into holes that have been drilled by hand. Removing the sculpture from the mould is not an easy process, with the silicone at risk of being stretched or torn. Once removed, Mueck paints finer details (like veins and blemishes) on the surface, by hand, before finally sculpting the eyes, bringing his creations to life.
About The Show
This exhibition was Mueck’s first in Scotland, and the largest ever to be held in the UK. It was also the first contemporary art show to be presented by the National Galleries of Scotland in the newly refurbished Royal Scottish Academy Building.
The show contained ten works, including the five that were shown at the Cartier Foundation in Paris the previous year, attracting 110,000 visitors. The remaining works were made up of important previous works, such as Man in a Boat (2002) and a new commission of a giant baby. After Edinburgh, many of the works were shown in New York (Nov 2006 - Feb 2007) and Ottawa (Feb - May 2007).
The show also featured a cinema, showing a film of Mueck at work, a number of documentary photographs of the artist’s studio, and a display of models, maquettes and moulds.
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