James Dive was quietly fishing one afternoon when he began pondering life as a fish. More specifically, what would happen if the tables were turned, and the hunter became the hunted? How would you lure a human and what would you use as bait?

The result is What a Tasty Looking Burger, a giant, hyper-realistic hamburger that on first glance looks convincingly lifelike and delicious. It’s only on closer inspection that you notice sharp hooks poking out menacingly from beneath and the rope snaking off into the deep water.

What a Tasty Looking Burger is Dive’s entry in this year’s Sculpture by the Sea. Dive has been invited to take part, alongside acclaimed veteran Sydney sculptor Ken Unsworth, as part of the inaugural invited artist program.

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It’s the 21st anniversary of Sydney’s popular outdoor sculpture fest, and 11 years since Dive last entered with his unforgettable melting Mr Whippy van, Hot with the Chance of a Late Storm.

That sculpture would go on to become internationally famous – and a defining image associated with Sculpture by the Sea – yet at the time it was the first attempt by Dive and his creative collective The Glue Society at building an installation.

He has built more wacky creations in the time intervening. With The Glue Society he devised three installations for Sculpture by the Sea in Denmark, including I Wish You Hadn’t Asked, a seemingly innocuous suburban house that soaks the viewer with pouring rain once they step inside. Dive was also the brains behind the superficially blingy but deeply resonant and internationally award-winning GAYTMs commissioned by ANZ in recognition of their principal partnership with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Defining exactly what Dive is and does is tricky, and that’s exactly how he likes it. The cheerful, self-described “creative mutt who likes to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong” is a hybrid artist who moves between the world of advertising and art, always with a healthy dose of irreverence.

“Some people tell me I should just make up my mind, but what makes me tick is having a public art practice,” he says. “I really enjoy directing commercials and I really enjoy design and place-making. For me they all work together and I think in our modern world it makes complete sense to be multi-faceted.”

Twelve months ago Dive decided to go it alone – or almost alone, departing The Glue Society and founding Scoundrel Projects, an arm of commercial and film production company Scoundrel that describes itself as “a dedicated production company for unconventional projects.” Working on a project-by-project basis, Dive aligns himself with the other creatives necessary to realise a specific work.

“The projects I tend to attract are giant pop-up books [a collaboration with the Australian Catholic University for its 2017 open day], or a huge Chinese New Year wall of fortune [City of Sydney 2016] – big, bold projects you can pitch for because I have that production backing to make things happen. The work I do you can’t do as a solo artist, you need a team.”

Now he’s creating a giant hamburger.

Hand-carved from a block of polystyrene, What a Tasty Looking Burger has been covered in fibreglass and repeatedly sprayed with automotive paint and various iridescent, glittering, pearl effects creating the burger you just can’t resist. Steel hooks measuring 60 centimetres in length complete the effect. Measuring 1.3 x 1.3 metres, the burger is light enough to be carried across the rocks but will weigh 1.5 tonnes once filled with sea water.

“It’s a little dark but there’s always that darker element to most of my stuff,” he says.

Dive avoids being too proscriptive with his installations, hoping instead to spark a conversation and let viewers make up their own minds. “I like the idea that people come up with their own thing. The Whippy truck has become a meme for global warming now; people send it to me without even knowing I did it, saying ‘hot in London today!’ or whatever. I like that people gravitate to and interact with an artwork.”

Sculpture by the Sea runs from October 19 to November 5.