B orn in 1958 in Melbourne, Australia; son of toy-makers; married to Caroline Willing (a scriptwriter); children: two daughters. Education: Apprenticed to puppeteer Jim Henson.
Addresses: Agent—James Cohan Gallery, 533 West 26th St., New York, NY 10001. Home—London, England.
W orked as a window-display artist, puppet-maker, puppeteer, and modelmaker before 1996; film credits include Labyrinth, 1986, and the British children’s television series Gophers, 1990; included in the 1997 art exhibit Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection; first solo gallery show at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, 1998; National Gallery of Britain, artist-in-residence, c. 2001-03; made New York debut with solo show at the James Cohan Gallery, 2001; subject of retrospec-tives at the Brooklyn Museum, 2006, and The Andy Warhol Museum, 2007; works have been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, ARoS Museum (Denmark), and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.
R on Mueck is an Australian-born sculptor based in Britain whose lifelike human forms have made him one of the most acclaimed creative talents to emerge from the much-hyped Young British Artists movement in the mid1990s. Mueck crafts his hyperrealistic figures from silicone or fiberglass, and spends months painstaking creating details like hair, wrinkles, and even blood. The incredibly lifelike results have made the artist’s works a favorite of both museum visitors and art critics alike. One from the latter group, the Observer’s Sean O’Hagan, asserted that “Mueck’s epic and tiny human figures, in all their exaggerated realism and mysterious otherworldliness hark back to a time when art pertained to the sacred.”
Mueck—whose surname is pronounced “MEW-eck”—was born in 1958 in Melbourne, Australia, to parents who were German émigré toymakers. They moved the family, which included a brother, to Britain in the early 1960s, and Mueck grew into a shy, awkward adolescent. “I was really self-conscious as a teenager,” he told Judith Palmer in an interview that appeared in the Independent. “I wanted to be invisible. I wasn’t very sociable, and I’d just stare at the other groups of kids, unable to imagine what they might be talking about.”
After working first as a window-display artist, Mueck became a model maker and puppeteer, and apprenticed with Jim Henson of The Muppet Show and Sesame Street fame. He worked on children’s television shows, and moved into film in the mid1980s, creating the goblins in Labyrinth, the 1986 fantasy movie starring David Bowie. Mueck went on to launch his own company that made props and animated figures for advertising; however, he grew dissatisfied with the work, as he told Palmer in the Independent. “Everything I was doing was geared towards that final flat image, the piece of print. It felt like I was just a step in the process, a tradesman doing one portion of the finished thing.” By the mid1990s, Mueck was married to Caroline Willing, a scriptwriter, with whom he had two young daughters. Willing’s mother was the artist Paula Rego, who asked him to make a Pinocchio figure for one of her tableaux. The figure was included in a 1995 exhibition of Rego’s paintings at the Hayward Gallery in London, and “so eerily lifelike was the quizzical little figure that a gallery security guard used to turn the boy to face the wall every night,” wrote Palmer in the Independent.
Rego introduced Mueck to Charles Saatchi, the well-known British art collector, famous for his support of young, often daring new artists. Saatchi bought the second piece Mueck made after Pinocchio, called Dead Dad. It would become one of the most talked-about pieces included in Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection, an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London that launched the careers of several new artists, among them Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. Dead Dad commemorates Mueck’s late father, and is about two-thirds the size of a normal human figure. Telling Palmer he wanted to make something he could cradle in his arms, he began the work as a way of dealing with the loss of his parent. “He died in Australia, and I never saw the body,” he said in the Independent interview. “This was a way of saying goodbye to him and creating something to fill the space of that empty experience.”
Dead Dad was made by the same process that Mueck used to create his puppets, using fiberglass or silicone molds, then painting all the surface details. He then drills or punches holes in the “skin” to hold hair. At the Sensation show, Mueck’s work “drew gasps of wonder from both the curious and the jaded,” wrote O’Hagan in London’s Observer newspaper. “A slightly smaller-than-lifesize sculpture of a male corpse, naked, alabaster pale and laid out as if awaiting the mortician’s blade, Dead Dad was that rare thing, a contemporary artwork that was both genuinely humble and genuinely heart-stopping.”
Mueck had his first solo show at the prestigious Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London in 1998, and made his New York solo debut at the James Cohan Gallery in 2001. The latter show consisted of just two pieces, but New York Times critic Michael Kim-melman asserted “this is one of the most memorable little shows in years.” One of the pair was a giant head that was a self-portrait, called Mask II, and the other a 35inch-long Mother and Child—a figure of a woman who has just given birth and is looking at the newborn placed on her stomach. “Tension runs through straightened arms and raised neck, the woman straining to see the baby,” Kim-melman wrote. “A single strand of the woman’s hair catches in the corner of her mouth . The expression conveys exhaustion and dumbstruck wonderment, a lightly comic, ultimately grave miracle of minutely reproduced observation.”
At Britain’s Millennium Dome exhibition in 2000, Mueck submitted a 15foot-high figure called Boy, which went on to appear in the important Venice Biennale art event and was later acquired by the ARoS Museum ofAarhus, Denmark. In 2001, Mueck was invited to become artist-in-residence at London’s National Gallery, a stint that ended with a 2003 exhibition of new work based on Old Masters paintings and sculptures in the museum’s collection. The aforementioned Mother and Child came from this period, as did a new one, Pregnant Woman (2002), which became part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Australia.
In 2006, the Brooklyn Museum feted Mueck with a solo exhibition, and the dozen works shown included Dead Dad plus several new ones, including a 16foot-long newborn baby with its umbilical cord still attached which was titled A Girl. Reviewing the Brooklyn show for the New York Times, Grace Glueck wrote that Mueck’s artistry evokes the paintings of British artist Lucian Freud. She singled out a piece called Big Man, describing it as “an anonymous seven-foot hulk—totally nude, including his bald head—that squats in a corner regarding the world with saturnine displeasure, [and] invokes Mr. Freud’s paintings of his vast, fleshy model Leigh Bowery,” Glueck wrote. “Mueck differs from such artists, however, in his empathetic involvement with his subjects, who seem to embody, in one way or another, the challenges and perils of the human condition.”
Independent (London, England), June 2, 1998, p. 2.
New York Times, June 1, 2001; November 10, 2006.
Observer (London, England), August 6, 2006, p. 35.
Sunday Times (London, England), March 23, 2003, p. 6.