Australian born sculptor Ron Muek’s style is described as hyperrealist, and that is no exaggeration.
His early work included model making and puppeteering for children’s television and films, notably the film Labyrinth. Mueck moved on to establish his own company in London, making photo-realistic props and animatronics for the advertising industry. Although highly detailed, these props were usually designed to be photographed from one specific angle hiding the mess of construction seen from the other side. Mueck increasingly wanted to produce realistic sculptures which looked perfect from all angles.
In 1996 Mueck transitioned to fine art. His sculptures faithfully reproduce the minute detail of the human body but play with scale to produce disconcertingly jarring visual images. Currently on display at the Hirshhorn is Untitled (Big Man) – a giant, hairless, naked man crouched in the fetal position in the corner of the gallery. The piece is undeniably the most noticeable in the room, causing visitors to stop in their tracks and revel in the hyperrealism of every detail, from the translucent flesh to the cracked toenails. The artist uses pigmented polyester resin on fiberglass to achieve a realism that is grotesque and unsettling and purposefully so. As part of the show Dark Matters, Big Man relates to the solitude, threat, and emptiness of darkness. We naturally fear darkness as we fear loneliness, rejection, and violence. Big Man possesses all of these unnerving elements. His humanoid appearance, intimidating size, and dejected posture conjure up mixed feelings of empathy and fear; the viewer cannot help but ponder his or her own perceptions of beauty and acceptance.