Exhibitions: Ron Mueck: Q & A

Ron Mueck with Wild Man sculpture
Mueck with Wild Man. Photograph © Gautier Deblonde. Courtesy of Anthony d'Offay, London

Between November 3rd and 20th, 2006, visitors to the Museum and/or our Web site were invited to submit questions for Ron Mueck. Questions and answers appear below.

From Ron Mueck:
Hi, thanks for taking the time to email. I hope these responses will answer your questions.

Lynn: I noticed a container of baby powder while watching the slide show of the installation [on Flickr]. I think there may be more to it than "powdering" the giant baby, [but] I'm hoping you could tell me what part it plays in setting up your works?

Mueck: The surface of cured silicone attracts and holds on to dust and atmospheric grime. I brush the surface of the sculptures with "friendly dust" (talc), which leaves less room for the "bad dust."

Becca: I really enjoyed the video that showed how you created the pregnant lady. She was not in the Museum at all. Is she at a different location, or still a work in progress? Any word on where we can view that one?

Mueck: Pregnant Woman is in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Erich: [I] looked at your work with my contemporary art class mainly in terms of comfort/discomfort of the viewer. I can't help but feel that there is more to the work than just making the viewer feel uncomfortable. I have to admit that I have never seen your work in person, but is there an element that I am missing that relates to what the viewer is supposed to experience? Also how important is the gallery space in terms of viewing the piece? Does the crouching boy loose something if it is viewed in a larger room as opposed to a cramped "hallway"or smaller room?

One last thing, I had an artist in my studio and he told me "Design is comfortable, art is uncomfortable." Do you agree with that?

Comfort and discomfort are pretty broad terms. Each viewer will arrive with their own comfort/discomfort levels. The artist makes something to react to...the viewer reacts.

People are going to respond in a different way to a figurative sculpture than they would to something abstract. There might be a certain degree of identification or empathy. They might go with that impulse, or resist it and remain objective or analytical...or have an entirely different reaction...regardless of what anyone thinks they're "supposed to experience." I think that is as it should be.

You're right; the space has a huge effect on the works. With sculpture the space creates a tangible context. You can't really predict it; you have to work with it. There are always surprises.

[Regarding the quote "Design is comfortable, art is uncomfortable."] Absolutes make me uncomfortable. I hope you get to see the show.

Haley: Do you base the figures off real people? What inspires your creation of each new work? Has your Australian background influenced your work in any way?

Mueck: Sometimes I use a reference (photos, occasionally a friend or model), sometimes my imagination. I always use a mirror.

The pieces evolve. I might see something that gets the ball rolling—an image, a scene in the street, a suggestive pose. I might start with a space and wonder what could work within it. But those are just the starting points that a piece will develop from.

The choices I make as the work develops are no doubt informed by my "background" but I'm not sure I could identify a particularly Australian quality.

Bilgin: Did you ever think that you made a piece too big or not big enough after you were done with it?

Mueck: Making the big ones is such hard, physical work I usually wish they were smaller while I'm making them, not after.

I spend quite a while making paper mock-ups/sketches of varying sizes before I commit myself to sculpting the clay. I can still change it all right up to the moulding stage, by which time I know if the size is working for me or not.

Kelsey: When my friend and I visited the exhibit, we were especially intrigued by the various works' eyes and where their focus [was.] Try as we might we never could find the point in front of the sculpture that met its eye contact. We thought we'd found it and then realized Wild Man, for example, was still not looking exactly at us but at some other unreachable focus point. Is that on purpose?

Mueck: I have them staring into the distance beyond or through the viewer—perhaps lost in their own thoughts or fixed on something else. "Unreachable" sounds good. A Girl had only one eye open—c'mon, you must have found that eye-line!

Kevin: Is it just me or is your work a clearer vision of reality than reality itself?

It might just be you, Kevin!

Mrs. R.A. Drakakis: Where do you get your inspirations for these incredible pieces? How long does it take to make your large faces?

See answer 4. They all take different lengths of time. Mask II took 4 weeks, Spooning Couple, 3 months; it depends on how long it takes to get the clay sculpt right. Sometimes you get it right without a struggle, other times...

Do you see these sculptures as total human beings with a past, present, and future?

Mueck: I'm not sure...I certainly haven't worked out histories for them. I guess I get trapped in their moments with them. Sometimes, if I haven't seen them for a while, it's like seeing a relative you've been out of touch with—except they haven't gotten any older!

Alyssa: I was just wondering if you were the same artist who showed a few pieces in the Sensation exhibit that was at the Museum back in 1999? I just looked at the Flickr pictures and it looks like the same style. I think I remember seeing a smaller-than-life [size] angel sitting on a stool [in Sensation].

Also, it'd be interesting to know if you often get to witness the reactions to your work outside of art openings (where people somewhat know what to expect)? If you have seen them, what types of reactions have really affected you?

Yep, I had stuff in Sensation.
I don't usually see the shows while they're running.

Mister G: What is one memorable story that might otherwise be unknown? Do you have [one] from the set of the film Labyrinth?

Sorry, no memorable stories, but you should talk to the big, hairless, naked guy in the corner! No, perhaps you should leave him alone.

Tafewa: [Pertaining] to networking and marketing of one's work: how did you go about differentiating yourself in a sea of super talented people?

Charles Saatchi saw one of my pieces in Paula Rego's studio and commissioned some more work. Some of that new work was included in the Sensation show.

Kristopher: In attaining the incredible amount of realism, what was your greatest challenge?

Some of the figures are more detailed than others. Getting the scale of the hair and the skin translucency can be a headache, requiring lots of tests and experimenting...and testing and experimenting...