It started with just a battery on the pavement…

But first…
Dulltown, UK: Today’s existential angst is centred around the sound of the word ‘realm’.
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So, what about these artists who make simulacra of, or produce images of, ordinary things in the world so expertly that it makes you gasp, because they are so… real?
This train of thought was set in motion the other day as I wandered down a road here in Dulltown; I spotted a discarded rectangular 9 volt battery lying in the middle of the pavement; but on closer inspection, I saw that it wasn’t one…
Yes, what it was, was… (‘was was’ Dave?) Yes, what it was was, just a small piece of wood, about the size of a PP3 battery; and coincidentally it had at some time been part of something painted in catchy colours not unlike that of a popular make of PP3 battery. My eye had been beguiled.
Anyway, back to art. I was in the local gallery a couple of days ago and saw some work by Ron Muek. He makes extremely lifelike human figures, but usually larger or smaller than real ones. You have to admire his dedication and skill, the figures are amazing…
However… yes, however, for me there was something, I wasn’t sure what, missing from the experience. You look at the figures, and you say, ‘Gosh!’ – you stare at them, and walk around them, they are quite unnerving; it’s just like looking at people, but either smaller or larger than normal – what more do I think I want?…
I think, with a piece of art there are a large number of mental boxes that can be ticked (checked US) that contribute to the experience. I don’t suppose any piece of work has ever ticked all of the available boxes at once – anyway, some of the boxes will be mutually exclusive. For me Ron Muek ticks some very very well, but leaves quite a few others blank.
I suppose it’s like those hyperreal painters who do large exquisitely detailed paintings – you can stand there open-mouthed in awe of the technique – people walk up and say, ‘Look Pauline, it’s just like a photograph!’, and little Pauline says, ‘Well, why isn’t it one then?’ I don’t get much out of these myself – I think I want something more than just practical cleverness and skill in my art.
I remember going to an art college degree show preview a while back and seeing a few pieces by a student who made extremely accurate full-size replicas of everyday objects. I recall one piece was an industrial wooden pallet, the sort of thing you might see loaded with sacks etc. on a passing lorry, or lying in a builders’ yard. It was an old-looking one, with ‘chipped’ paint, scratches, and convincing dents – it was leaning against the gallery wall. You wouldn’t know it wasn’t real, unless you picked it up – it was about the weight of a nice loaf of bread. I reckon most of the visitors there assumed that it was a real one, and wasn’t really very interesting to look at for more than a second or two. I suppose the artist could have put a sign next to it explaining all, but then, what would be the point? Art shouldn’t need words of explanation – the idea is that the works do the speaking.
The Muek human figures, the hyperrealist paintings, and the fake pallet, seems to be doing little more than ask the audience to admire and appreciate the skill, the attention to detail, the hours of concentration and sweat that it took to do the thing. For me in all three cases a nice big photo of the original subject would have done the job almost as well…
So, in the gallery, having seen one of these things, it you drift away still full of admiration for the artist’s dedication, but you head off to another part of the building and look at a Henry Moore bronze, a 16th c. engraving of a rhino, a marble bust of a politician, a spiky jumping Kandinsky painting, or even a urinal with ‘R Mutt’ written on it… you might be thinking, Hm, perhaps the thing I found missing earlier was, art…?

About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
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7 Responses to It started with just a battery on the pavement…

  1. Dana Doran says:

    I could make this brief……but, why? First, thanks for the translation into US “English.” hahahaha Those works by dear Mr Meuk are a wonder, aren’t they? His technical skills are just beyond reproach! I’m afraid, however, his giant head makes me think Big Brother…blah blah blah. So, when I attended University, an art history professor explained that ART performs the function of expressing life (the universe and everything) through the eyes of the artist – – so that the viewer might see life as the artist does. Well, at that time I considered that I had been an artist for 58 years already, painting things just as I observed them. So, you wouldn’t know it….but I recognize that that (yes, two thats in a row) little lecture changed the way I thought about what I was “seeing” (and painting) versus what was observable. You know, there are a lot of people, maybe billions of them that like their art to relate almost entirely to the observable – they just like to see the brushstrokes, but, please, make it “realistic.” That probably only explains why there’s an ap for changing a photograph into a lifelike “painting” or that Meuk’s formula for success included the public’s relationship with observable reality. You know, it also occurs to me that Meuk is protecting himself by NOT revealing what he really sees ….because when you do that, and you aren’t successful, it’s not just rejection of the art you have produced, but a rejection of the way you “see” life. Perhaps that’s why whathisname cut off his ear? Aside from that, it was a safe bet for the gallery, wasn’t it? I’m sure most of the comments were, “oooh, that’s so lifelike!”

    • Dave Whatt says:

      Oh, yes his stuff IS really popular.
      I believe he started all this not as art, but when he was working in the movie industry doing models and special effects stuff.
      I think his really bright idea was to change the scale of his ‘portraits’ and make them extra big and extra small.
      The thing is though, I expect he’s stuck with it now – all he can do is more of them. I hope he’s not just doing it for the money… Ho ho…
      Isn’t funny how objects that are so impressive, and memorable, and that apparently ‘move’ people, can also be be a bit, er, ’empty’?…

      • Dana Doran says:

        I think that’s why, sitting in a back room somewhere, gallery owners and museum curators came up with the word “resonate” as the buzzword…it’s so ethereal isn’t it? You did explain the emptiness…..let’s build on that……someone sees how skilled a laborer is at making fake dog shit with a secret door to hide a spare key in and a museum curator sees it and encourages the laborer to make one very large one for an exhibit and promises to exhibit it….the local art critic writes a story and so the laborer has transformed himself into an “artist” and huge models of dog crap are now exhibited all over the world……but someone notices, the secret hiding place is absent a key……hahaha…..it’s empty?

      • Dave Whatt says:

        Oh yes! there’s no fooling you Dana!
        I have been thinking further on this recent arty post:
        When you look at pieces of work, say by, Kandinsky, Miro, H Moore, Van Gough, Magritte, or anyone, you get a feel of what the artist was like as a person, a sense of humour? A nice guy? A scary guy?… But with Mr Muek, there seems to be nothing of him in his work…

  2. Personally I’m not a fan of hyper realistic art at all! I like art to *look* like art….effort, scribbles, overpainting, layers, etc. That palette thing…..well to have made something so real that people simply glance at it, just takes away all the effort an artist did to make it. I can’t believe you picked it up! I got removed from a gallery once when I picked up a handbag. It was a glittery thing lying on the floor with its contents spilled out. I thought someone had dropped it but the thing weighed a TON! One of the security guards rushed over shouting “Stop, STOP!! Don’t touch the exhibits!!! I’m going to have to ask you to leave” What? It was lying on the floor with no notice or rope around it. Pffft!

  3. Jheron Bash says:

    Thing about Ron Muek though is – it’s not just the ultra-realism & skill involved, it’s the alteration of scale. A big photo of the original couldn’t do that half as well. And a photo isn’t three dimensional, so you can walk round it. I thought “dead dad” at the Sensation exhibition back in the day (Royal Academy, 1997 – 20 years, phew!) was one of the most memorable pieces of art I’ve seen. Just saying …

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