the making of Pregnant woman 2002
Ron Mueck Pregnant woman 2002 (detail) fibreglass, resin, silicone Purchased with the assistance of Tony and Carol Berg 2003 © Ron Mueck
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'I never made life-size figures because it never seemed to be interesting. We meet life-size people every day.'
About the work
Ron Mueck's sculpture Pregnant woman is monumental, anatomically detailed and naked. Standing over 2.5 metres in height, this imposing sculpture towers over its viewers. Why are we fascinated by Mueck's work? Why are we drawn to something so real that it seems almost unbelievable? Is it the work of art itself, or the process the artist has used to create such realistic detail?
Mueck works with a particular type of super-realism that has a long history. He invites people to take a close-up look at his work, to inspect the hairs, freckles and blemishes, to scrutinize the carefully modelled expression and contemplate the difference between artist-made reality and the world in which we live.
Born in Australia in 1958, Ron Mueck has lived in London for the last 20 years. A self-taught artist, his background in children's television, animatronics and the movie industry – he worked with Jim Henson on The Muppets and with the film Labyrinth – has informed his extraordinarily realistic sculptures. What influence do you think this background has had on the artist's practice?
Real, super-real, hyper-real. What is the difference? How would you describe Mueck's work?
'There's no denying that I have more information readily at hand when I have a live model. Even when I have had a model, however, what I have to do in the end is to consciously abandon the model and go for what feels right.'
Ron Mueck 'Pregnant woman' 2002 (detail) fibreglass, resin, silicone Purchased with the assistance of Tony and Carol Berg 2003 © Ron Mueck
About the work
Ron Mueck worked with a life model to create Pregnant woman during a two year residency at the National Gallery, London. The model gave birth before Mueck had finished the sculpture. Still considered to be taboo in some cultures, many people are confronted by the sight of a heavily pregnant woman. In an art gallery, images of pregnancy barely exist, whereas depictions of motherhood – particularly in religious imagery – are more common.
Mueck made a series of maquettes (small studies) and large scale drawings before sculpting a large clay model from which the final mould for this sculpture was taken. Mueck used silicon, fibreglass, resin and mixed media to create Pregnant woman: the body is of polyester resin – a hard resin – and fibreglass, while the face was made of softer, more pliable silicon to give it a naturalistic, flesh like appearance. Pregnant woman is quite light, about 40 kilograms.
The artist's work has been applauded by some critics as 'the best thing to happen to figurative sculpture in ... generations'. (Peter Plagens in Newsweek), but others have dismissed him as a mere 'model maker'. What do you think?
Mueck's carefully painted and finished sculptures sets up many other contradictions: Pregnant woman appears lifelike, but its stillness also makes it life-less. How could Pregnant woman appear more real?
Artist's quotes taken from Sarah Tanguy, 'A conversation with Ron Mueck' in Sculpture Magazine, vol.22, no.6, July/August 2003