Ron Mueck’s Two women is an uncanny sculptural representation of two elderly female figures. The disarming realism of the work invites close scrutiny from which the viewer discovers Mueck’s virtuoso skill in rendering human features, costume details and the idiosyncratic attributes that form personality. Huddled close together, as if gently bracing themselves from the cold, the women peer outward with expressions that suggest both suspicion and vulnerability.
A strong component of fantasy exists in Mueck’s work as he deliberately subverts conventional paradigms of scale. Much like the characters of Gulliver’s Travels, Mueck’s figures are monumentally increased or dramatically reduced in size. Mueck has explained, ‘I never made life-size figures because it never seemed to be interesting. We meet life-size people every day’ (S. Tanguy, ‘The progress of Big man: A conversation with Ron Mueck’, Sculpture, vol. 22, no. 6, 2003). The effect, as in the case of Two women, intensifies the physical and emotional aura of his figures. The minute stature of the women creates a tension between artifice and reality that elicits a viscerally empathetic response from the viewer. His creations appear seemingly trapped in introverted emotional states as their physical poses, gestures and facial expressions reflect the inner world of private feelings and thoughts. Mueck’s figurative sculptures often explore the timeless themes of birth, ageing and death.
The craftsmanship with which Mueck constructs his sculptures adds significant impact to our viewing experience. This is very much apparent in Two women where each strand of hair is individually inserted into the characters’ heads; the clothes are specifically tailored to fit their anatomically proportioned, yet miniature bodies. Mueck has carefully fabricated the eyes of the women creating a transparent lens over a coloured iris and deep black pupil to astounding effect.
Melbourne born and London based, Ron Mueck has explored the possibilities of the human form, first as a special-effects worker in the film industry and then later as an artist. With no formal art training, Mueck perfected his sculptural skills in the United States in the world of children’s television, most notably under pioneering puppeteer Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets. In London Mueck established his own company that specialised in the production of photo-realistic props and animatronics for the advertising industry. Mueck’s career as an artist began in 1996 and evolved out of a collaboration with Paula Rego, for whom he produced a small Pinocchio figure as part of a tableau she exhibited at the Hayward Gallery, London. Rego introduced Mueck to Charles Saatchi who immediately collected and commissioned work. Mueck’s sculpture came to international attention when he exhibited Dead dad, 1996–97, in Sensation, an exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997 surveying aspects of Saatchi’s collection and particularly the works of a generation of artists gathered under the rubric of YBA (Young British Artists). Dead dad is a haunting silicone and mixed-media sculptural rendition of the corpse of Mueck’s father reduced to about two thirds of its natural scale.
Alex Baker, Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2008)