Monday, April 12, 2010
There’s in your face – and then there’s the face! Decapitated, tilted on its side, eyes closed. It looks disturbingly alive. Lips moist, skin rosy, hair neatly combed. The five o’clock shadow and wrinkles in the forehead seem to signify a hard day. From the top of the head to the chin, it’s four feet long and one of art’s most haunting and sublime self-portraits.
The man behind the mask is Ron Mueck, a literal giant in the sculpting industry. For a decade, the London based artist has wowed museum goers with his hyper-realistic rendering ability in scales super tiny or grossly larger than life. He uses silicone, acrylic and fiberglass cast from clay models to construct the figures. Then, each hair is meticulously punched into the shell, each pore perfectly poked and each wrinkle carefully chiseled. The sculptures have feelings and stories to share showcasing the essence of the human condition. Their sheer sizes demand we pay attention.
In Mother and Child, a woman has just given birth. The blood-sprinkled, slimy baby rests on her stomach, umbilical cord still attached. As the child takes its first breaths, Mom appears to be in shock over the pain and miracle of her experience.
Then there’s the corpse of Mueck’s own father with hands open at his side, spirit resting, soul very much alive. Dead Man from his 1997 exhibition “Sensation” gained him international acclaim. It is a humble and haunting tribute as his dad lay pale, nude and awaiting a mortician’s knife. It’s half scale but beyond massive in power, and the only work that includes Ron’s real hair.
In Ghost, a teenage girl turns her head and stares at the ground. Her legs are long and skinny, hands clutched behind her butt. At seven feet tall, the distorted size and uncomfortable posture exacerbate the awkwardness of adolescence.
In Untitled (Seated Woman), an old lady wears the toll of a long life on her face. Seated, hands clasped, hunched over just a bit, you feel like pulling up a chair and putting your arm around her. She’s a person who has seen it all, yet somehow seems ignored. In this case, wrinkles equal wisdom and really looking at this amazing piece of art equals learning.
Mueck exploded onto the contemporary art scene at the height of the Young British Artists movement in the late 1990’s. He comes by his artistic talent honestly. He was born in Australia to parents who worked as toymakers. Mueck has no art school training, but is a self-taught craftsman. He took a job as a puppet builder and performer for a kids’ TV show before becoming Jim Henson’s apprentice. Mueck worked with the Muppet design team creating special effects for Henson’s film “Labyrinth.” In the movie, Mueck provided the puppetry and voice for the character Ludo.
Mueck moved on to establish his own company in London, making photo-realistic props and models for the advertising industry. The details were stunning, but they were designed to be photographed from only one angle. The backside of the props were ugly, unfinished and then scrapped after the shoot. Mueck craved permanence and perfection from all angles. “Everything I was doing was geared towards that final, flat image, the piece of print,” Mueck said. “Everything was predetermined. I was always telling someone else’s story. I wanted to make something that a photograph wouldn’t do justice to.”
With the help of his mother-in-law, artist Paula Rego, Mueck got the breaks he needed. Rego watched him build a dragon sand castle for his two young daughters on a vacation to America and was amazed at what she saw. She asked Ron to make a model of Pinocchio for some drawings she was working on and the rest is history. Mueck is currently represented by some of the greatest galleries in the world, was invited to show at the 2001 Venice Biennale, and had one of his pieces recently sell for 0,000.
Untitled (Big Man) took Mueck four weeks to create. He’s hairless, hulkish and, from a seated position, more than six feet tall. Sulking in a corner, the sculpture looks angry and alone – likely the reality of the experience. You see, it was one of the only times where Mueck used a live model. Naked and completely shaven, the subject simply couldn’t strike a pose that would satisfy the artist. So Ron told him to go sit in the corner while he figured out what to do. He was about to ask the man to leave early when the magic just happened.
With exquisite craftsmanship and eerie exactitude, Ron Mueck is carving out humanity’s truth – life, death, innocence and loss in a scope seldom seen. His works are experiments in psychology wrought with tension that both attract and estrange. They are naked, vulnerable and exposed to the world’s judgment and empathy. Above all else, Mueck’s sculptures give the art of living a voice, and are startling examples of how extraordinary existence really is.
Written by: Ben Bamsey