Jim Henson's Apprentice: Ron Mueck

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In the words of reader Shann, Ron Mueck (born 1958) is a "totally awesome sculptor" whose work is "so life-like." This weekend's "Feel Art Again" post features the notoriously private Australian sculptor who rarely grants interviews, even in the days leading up to his exhibitions.

Background

Ron Mueck (pronounced MEW-eck) was introduced to the magic of crafting objects by hand at a young age: his German parents were toymakers. Mueck often enjoyed assisting with the creation of toys. He later honed his skills not in art school, but as an apprentice to Jim Henson. Labyrinth, Sesame Street, The Storyteller, and other Muppet ventures benefited from Mueck's touch.

Sources of Inspiration

Despite their "hyper-realistic" nature, Mueck's sculptures are rarely created from live models, though he always uses a mirror. Instead, Mueck references anatomy texts (preferring Professor R.D. Lockhart's Living Anatomy), pregnancy books, photos, his own memory and imagination. For "A Girl," he referenced a photograph of one of his daughters, taken just after she was born, to paint the blood on the baby. "Pregnant Woman" and "untitled (Big Man)" are two of the few works for which he did employ models.

Artistic Process

Mueck's process is extensive: he first creates clay models to decide on a position, then sketches the figure in a variety of sizes to determine scale. The next step is to sculpt the figure in clay, followed by molding it (either in fiberglass or silicone) and painting the details. The final step is to sculpt the eyes. Today, Mueck usually uses silicone for his figures, but because it attracts dust and grime, Mueck brushes his sculptures with baby powder (or "friendly dust," as he describes it), which "leaves less room for the "˜bad dust.'"

Realistic Figures

Mueck has said, "I never made life-size figures because it never seemed to be interesting. We meet life-size people every day." Yet although Mueck's figures are always larger or smaller than life, they're still startlingly realistic to most viewers. According to the National Galleries of Scotland, "people find it hard to believe"¦ that they are not real." Mueck goes to great lengths to ensure his figures are as realistic as possible—he even used his own hair for "Dead Dad." While some critics in the art establishment consider his work to be on the level of "an unclothed department store mannequin," others believe Mueck "takes one to the very edge of the idea of life" and that "the eyes especially give these works such uncanny emotional force [and] human resonance that rises far above the status of a stunt."

Fame

After spotting one of Mueck's sculptures in Mueck's mother-in-law's studio, Charles Saatchi began collecting and commissioning the sculptor's work. Mueck's big break came with Saatchi's "Sensation" exhibit, which included Mueck's "Dead Dad," among others. He later served as an Associate Artist (a two year position) at London's National Gallery. In 2002, the National Gallery of Australia paid the (then) highest price for art by a living Australian to purchase Mueck's "Pregnant Woman."

A larger version of Mueck's "A Girl" is available here.

Fans should check out Mueck at the James Cohan Gallery and the Broad Art Foundation; behind-the-scenes photos of his process from Gautier Deblonde, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Modern (Fort Worth); and the Washington Post's slideshow of his exhibit at the Cartier Foundation.

"Feel Art Again" usually appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.

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