Sam Jinks | India Art Fair, New Delhi
26.01.12 to 29.01.12
Sam Jinks’ much anticipated exhibition at the India Art Fair, New Delhi will comprise four works that examine the human condition and life cycle. His hyper-real sculptures have been described as ‘poignantly beautiful’ as his works create a dialogue on both a technical and emotional level through a strong sensitivity to detail. Created from silicone, fibreglass, resin, calcium carbonate and human hair these works are irresistible in their striking resemblances to real life.
Jinks’ work can be found in the various public collections that include: McClelland Gallery + Sculpture Park, Victoria, Australia, Shepparton Art Gallery, Victoria, Australia and Museo Escultura Figurativa Internacional Contemporánea (MEFIC), Portugal, in addition to various private collections within Australia and internationally.
“Sam Jinks: Shadow on the Stone”, Claire Armstrong, Sydney 2011
Sam Jinks is one of a small group of artists worldwide who make ‘hyperreal’ sculptures of the human body. While figurative sculpture is an ancient artistic practice – as central to the history of art as oil painting on canvas – hyperreal artists are distinguished by their use of contemporary industrial materials, such as silicone, resin and latex, to make works that are awe-inspiring for their verisimilitude.
Hyperrealism is a relatively recent tradition in both sculpture and painting, and is loosely aligned with developments in colour and digital photography over the past 40 years. The American sculptor Duane Hanson was an early pioneer, producing a series of uncannily lifelike figures in the 1970s and 80s based on particular ‘types’ or caricatures – from American sightseers (Tourists II 1988) to weekend athletes (Jogger 1983) and cleaning ladies (Queenie II 1988).
More recent practitioners of hyperrealism include the South African-born Toronto-based sculptor Evan Penny, the Melbourne artist Patricia Piccinini and the Australian-born London-based artist Ron Mueck, whose work is perhaps most closely associated with the style. Jinks is friendly with all of these artists and worked in Piccinini’s studio for several years before embarking on his own artistic career.
Hyperrealistic sculpture and painting are rarely ever products of the traditional art-school system. The model-making community is small and it is not surprising that both Mueck and Jinks developed their technical skills in the television and advertising worlds where they made countless props and prostheses and, as Jinks recalls, ‘lots of dead bodies’, for commercial clients.
Given the specificity of their style it is easy to group hyperreal artists under the one banner and to overlook the often quite marked differences in their work. This is particularly the case for Jinks and Mueck, the latter with whom Jinks is most frequently compared. Certainly their work has similarities, the most prominent being their shared skill in replicating the human figure in seemingly perfect form: from the shape of the body in its various manifestations through to specificities of eye colour, skin tone, fingernails, toenails and individual strands of hair.
Both artists too focus on flawed, ‘everyday’ bodies rather than heroic or idealised figures, and each manipulate scale, with their figures either enlarged spectacularly, as in Mueck’s work, or shrunken to 3/4 size, as in Jinks’ practice.
In every other way Jinks’ work diverges from Mueck’s quite radically. For example, Mueck’s work is notable for its use of spectacle and irony. By contrast there is a sincere and profound sense of vulnerability in Jinks’ figures, particularly in his depictions of the very old (as in Still life (Pietà) 2007 and Woman and Child 2010) and the very young (Untitled (Baby) 2006). The fineness of his technique and size of his figures – often slightly smaller than human size – also encourages in the viewer a sense of intimacy or identification with the object. Jink’s work invites meditative contemplation favouring a moment of quiet enlightenment rather then Mueck’s more sensational depictions.
Jinks’ skill in replicating the human body is extraordinary, the artist reproducing in Woman and Child, for example, the loose, pink skin of an infant on the one hand, and the translucent, slightly greyish skin of an elderly woman on the other. Given their exquisite and sometimes unnerving detail, it is easy to assume that Jinks’ works are the result of high-tech production; they seem too perfect to have been made by hand. It is astounding then, when visiting the artist’s studio in the north of Melbourne, to find it equipped with a decidedly low-tech array of tools and materials.
Indeed, Jinks’ technique is age-old: he begins with sketches and maquettes; hand-sculpts forms in clay; and then casts them in silicone or calcium carbonate. There is no production line – each work is handmade – and, although they are produced in small editions, each work is unique due to the vagaries of sanding, polishing and the application of paint. Jinks is particularly skilled at casting, the artist mixing and adapting the silicone so that it resembles as closely as possible the different shades and markings of human skin.
Understandably, it is this technical mastery that is initially the most compelling aspect of Jinks’ work. The viewer’s attention is focused on the artist’s skill with his materials and on his ability to ‘trick’ us so convincingly of the realism of his human forms. A to-ing and fro-ing between representation and reality is the natural first response to these works as one weighs up the artist’s success in replicating the human body. How does he reproduce so accurately the stubble on a man’s face? And the tiny, perfect fingertips of a young woman?
Our fascination with hyperreal sculpture is tied to our larger interest in outward appearances and in representations of the human body. In hyperreal works we are invited to do the rarest of things: to examine in close proximity the ordinary, imperfect, un-idealised body of another. Where else, other than in intimate relationships or clinical environments, do we have the opportunity to look so intently, sustainedly and unashamedly? Jinks’ works also speak to another desire: namely, that of seeing our own bodies objectified, of having the illusory experience of stepping outside our own skin and seeing ourselves as others see us, replicated.
This fascination is encouraged by Jinks’ manipulation of scale, with his slightly diminished figures resembling fetish-like objects rather than confronting, creepy clones. This adaptation of size also dissipates what Jinks has described as the ‘burden of hyperrealism’. For Jinks, hyperrealistic work ‘is so literal that there’s very little [room for] interpretation … You’re really channelling people right down to one tiny endpoint [and, as a result] there’s not that kind of shimmering ambiguity you might get in, say, an abstract painting. It loses a bit of energy because of that.’
In Jinks’ work, however, ambiguity abounds; his emphasis is on more than verisimilitude. Many of his figures have their eyes closed, suggesting a kind of inscrutability as though they are acting out a dream. In Still life (Pietà), for example, Jinks has re-created Michelangelo’s famous sculpture in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, substituting the figure of Mary with an adult male and that of Jesus with an elderly man. The older figure is depicted in such detail – from his lifeless grey hair to his wasted physique – that the despair and sadness at the inevitability of death is palpable. Yet the man in whose arms the elderly figure is cradled has his eyes closed, like a participant in a dream or as though he is imagining the scene before him.
Making Still life (Pietà) was very draining for Jinks because of its harrowing subject matter and the intensity of labour required to complete it, and also because it coincided with a very emotionally stressful period of his life. ‘It was challenging and very taxing’, he explains. ‘It’s such a loaded image and so sad. At the time my grandmother was dying … [so the work] came from a particular experience … and from me trying to process all of it.’ In Still life (Pietà) there is a sense that Jinks is giving tangible form to his emotions, as if by producing an object he might gain some control over a tragic experience.
Woman and Child similarly conveys strong emotion, in this case the joy and sadness that accompany the beginning and end of life. Again, the central figure in Woman and Child has her eyes closed, giving tenderness to her pose and suggesting a dream state. As Jinks says: ‘it’s like the woman is holding the infant version of herself.’ The construction of Woman and Child took place, like Still life (Pietà), at a challenging time in Jinks’ life, with both the birth of his son and his mother’s affliction with a life-threatening illness. Jinks’ mother, a dressmaker, made the silk nightdress worn by the female figure in Woman and Child. ‘It was strange to do the sculpture’, explains Jinks. ‘It almost came to a point where I didn’t have enough energy to see it through … My mother was making the outfit and then she had to go into hospital. She put so much work into [the gown] that I felt I had to see the work through. Although my mother is much younger, the woman kind of became her as I was making it.’
A recent work by Jinks is of a younger woman holding a white sheet, which she clasps to her shoulders so that it covers the length of her body, Shade 2011. In a new development for Jinks, the sheet is made from calcium carbonate rather than real fabric. Despite the hardness of the material, Jinks conveys precisely the delicate fall and folds of fabric, giving the work an affinity with the drapery in Greek and classical sculpture. The calcium carbonate was not only a technical accomplishment for Jinks, it also gave him a sense of greater flexibility and freedom from the concentration on replicating the body in precise detail.
As is typical of Jinks’ work, the female figure is not based on a specific person; rather, the sculpture was inspired in part by his reading of Thomas Hardy’s poem, The shadow on the stone. In this poem Hardy laments the death of his wife and recounts his sense, when in his garden, of her presence or spirit around him: I thought her behind my back; Yea, her I long had learned to lack; And I said: ‘I am sure you are standing behind me; Though how do you get into this old track?’; And there was no sound but the fall of a leaf; As a sad response; and to keep down grief; would not turn my head to discover; That there was nothing in my belief.
Jinks found this poem incredibly moving, relating it to his own (and others’) experience of glimpsing a deceased friend in a crowd. He says: ‘The poem is about … how the spirit of the dead is a shimmering undercurrent around us all the time.’
The cloth-draped figure has her head bowed and her eyes closed, her slightly greying brown hair pulled back. In this posture she seems to be in silent homage – praying, meditating or in a dreamlike state. Is she an icon for a secular age? For Jinks the religious connotations of this work are puzzling: ‘I’m not a Christian … and I can’t relate to sculpture that seems to come from divine inspiration. There are just so many question marks now.’
Another distinctive aspect of Jinks’ work is his animal sculptures. Doghead 2008, for example, is unusual in his practice for its incorporation of human and animal elements. This animal/human hybrid has the hyperreal body of a man topped with, as the title of the work indicates, a dog’s head. While there is a comical element to Doghead, it also alludes to our fascination with the supernatural in the way that the figure is laid out on the floor like a specimen or a remnant of an alien visitation.
A more recent work is Embrace 2010, a sculpture of two intertwined snails. After the emotional intensity of his works based on human figures the snails were for Jinks almost a ‘relief’ to work on – a ‘little celebration’. He was struck by both the beauty of the snail’s form – ‘they’re extraordinary, such a beautiful shape, like a luxury car’ – and by the fact that, despite their fragility, they are ‘fully self-contained creatures’. There is also for Jinks an aspect to these entangled creatures (in combat or communion?) of human relationships stripped down to their most basic elements.
A new sculpture by Jinks is modelled on himself, this is the first time the artist has made a conscious decision to use his own body as subject matter. His self-portrait head – a gigantic skull divided in half, with flesh on one side and bone on the other – is based on dental x-rays of his face, as well as a life cast and modelling. While Jinks’ sculptures of human bodies tap into our fascination with our own external form, his skull speaks to our parallel interest in what lies beneath. For Jinks there was an element of strangeness in modelling the shape and details of his own skull and face. ‘If you talk to a plastic surgeon [the structure of the face] is quite mundane, but if you’re not [in medicine] it’s quite strange – like seeing an x-ray of your body for the first time.’
Given his focus in this work on the body’s underlying structure, it is fitting that Jinks recounts his visit to Florence’s Museum of Natural History. Commonly known as ‘La Specola’, the museum is famous for its collection of 18th-century wax anatomical models (‘all those splayed bodies’ as Jinks describes them), the lifelike internal organs of which are based on modelling from corpses. He also cites his interest in the work of Hieronymous Bosch, in particular his famous triptych, The garden of earthly delights, in which Bosch presents his ghastly yet spectacular vision of heaven and hell.
When I visited Jinks in his Melbourne studio in early August, he was putting the final touches to the enormous eye that would be implanted in his self-portrait head. It was almost unnerving to see Jinks – using dental acrylic and paint to render exactly the density of his eye and the precise colour and pattern of his iris – carrying around so casually this blown up, lifelike fragment of his own body. This sense of detachment and yet great intimacy is characteristic of Jinks’ work. His sculptures convey the transience and fragility of life and the beauty of the human body in its various forms. Yet this is surrounded always by the suggestion of death. As Jinks explains: ‘When you think about death as a young person, there’s a real heaviness to it. As you get older it’s more of a reality so you come to terms with it.’
SAM JINKS, SELECTED BIOGRAPHY
Sam Jinks was born in Australia in 1973 and currently lives and works in Melbourne.Since his first solo exhibition Distortions at West Space, Melbourne in 2005, Sam has held seven other solo shows, at Benalla Art Gallery, Victoria (2006); Boutwell and Draper, Sydney (2007); West Space, Melbourne (2007); Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne (2008 and 2010); Gippsland Art Gallery, Sale, Victoria (2011) and New Albion Gallery, Sydney (2011). He has also participated in numerous group exhibitions, including: Sleeping man, Ardwolf Gallery Melbourne (2000); Diamonds in the Rough, (co-curated by Nadine Christensen and Paul Sloan), Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne (2001); Baby, First Floor Gallery, Melbourne (2002); Random Access, McClelland Gallery + Sculpture Park, Langwarrin, Victoria (2006); Truth and Likeness, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra (2006-07); Voiceless, curated by Charles Green, Sherman Gallery, Sydney (2007); Art Stage Singapore, Singapore (2011); Melbourne Art Fair, Melbourne (2010); Double Vision, McClelland Gallery + Sculpture Park, Australia (2011/12).