Hyperrealist sculpture has become part of contemporary art in a way that hyperrealist painting has failed. Contemporary hyperrealism is sensational. It is the contemporary art waxwork museum. It is both a popular and a booming media. There are many Australian artists doing hyperrealist sculptures Martine Corompt, Sam Jinks, Ron Mueck and Patricia Piccinini. Ron Mueck’s exhibition at the NGV earlier this year was very popular and was defined as “hot” by Melbourne Hot or Not. Patricia Piccinini has grown more popular since she moved from digital images to hyperrealist sculpture (her hyperrealist sculptures are manufactured by Sam Jinks).
I saw Sam Jinks exhibition at Karen Woodbury Gallery, Jinks has been exhibiting around Melbourne for the last decade but this is the first time that I’ve seen his work. There are only four sculptures on exhibition but they are all sensational. Not all of the sculptures in this exhibition are hyperrealist – there are two shrouded figures in the exhibition that are not hyperrealist. These figures are part of a symbolist fantasy, a contemporary gothic memento mori; continuing Jinks reputation for spooky sculpture.
There are a lot of sensory aspects to Jinks sculpture in this exhibition. His “Woman and child” 2010, shows an old woman in long nightgown holding a very young baby. The woman’s eyes are closed and the baby’s eyes are just open. It is about the sensation of life and life perceiving sensations. The sculpture is almost a quote from David Hume’s Enquiry concerning Human Understanding; for Hume all perceptions are derived either from sensation (“outward sentiment” in Hume’s words), depicted by the baby’s open eyes, or from reflection (“inward sentiment”), represented by the woman’s closed eyes.
Jinks’ sculpture of two entwining snails is also about sensations. It is also very beautiful in an alien way. The greatly enlarged surface of the skin of the monopods is beautifully rendered and their baroque entwining forms make this clearly art rather than a didactic model.
The sculptures are sensational; it is startling to look at the baby’s face in “Woman and child” and find open eyes. It is sensational to see giant hyper-real snails or the shrouded figures with their draped skeletal forms.
Why has hyperrealist sculpture become so popular? (Whereas hyperrealist painting has not had a similar revival in popularity.) It is 33 years after Paul Thek’s celebrated but hyperrealist sculpture “The Tomb – Death of a Hippie”. In 1967 hyperrealism was seen at the time as part of Pop Art but contemporary hyperrealism has nothing to do with Pop Art. Sixties hyperrealism was probably mislabeled by the media, unsure how to classify this kind of art they lumped it in with all the new art. The contemporary generation of artists is more appreciative of the sensational aspects of hyperrealist sculpture. The science fiction and comic book aspects of these contemporary sculptures have been embraced. And the quality of these sculptures has also improved sensationally since Thek’s painted plaster cast.