2008/01/01
Fenton Gallery, Cork
Dublin Art Fair 2008
Medb Ruane
Gottfried Helnwein
Gottfried Helnwein's classic yet unnerving images transform sentimental representations of childhood into portraits of individual subjects frozen at the moment of suffering. His photo-paintings pirouette on the fine line between chocolate box pictures/excessive sentimentality and the cost to children of being treated as commodities, of suffering emotional or physical pain at a grown-up's hands. High pictorial and technical values create compositions that recall contemporary cinema and seventeenth-century painting, expanding the treatment of time into epic. This apparent grandiosity plays against the immediacy of each suffering subject, underlining the different experience of time in childhood. Small hurts can devastate when you're a child. Big hurts stay with you for years, as survivors of Hitler's Anschluss testify. Now, in the age of virtual use and abuse of children, Helnwein's insistence on valuing the humanity and charm of the littlest, the least powerful, offers a counterpoint to claims that suffering counts most when you're grown-up. It opens his practice into a series of pictorial mise-en-scènes, as did Rembrandt's tableaux in The Blinding of Samson (1636) or The Night Watch (1642).
Sleep 5
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 2004, 111 cm x 152 cm / 43'' x 59''
Picturing children is an art and a business. The school photograph, the studio portrait catching eager innocence and beauty, speak to a culture that loves its children and likes to show them off. On the surface.
Beneath is a world where children suffer and endure because they're powerless, because they're little. Their vulnerability brings out the best and the worst, whether in families or in the child-unfriendly eco-politics of global culture.
Gottfried Helnwein's classic yet unnerving images transform sentimental representations of childhood into portraits of individual subjects frozen at the moment of suffering. His photo-paintings pirouette on the fine line between chocolate box pictures/excessive sentimentality and the cost to children of being treated as commodities, of suffering emotional or physical pain at a grown-up's hands.
Helnwein's youthful experience in post-World War Europe, and as a student in Vienna, references Adolf Hitler, who annexed the city, and Sigmund Freud, whose case called 'Little Hans' introduced a five-year old Viennese boy's wit and sensitivity to a century of psychoanalytical debate.
High pictorial and technical values create compositions that recall contemporary cinema and seventeenth-century painting, expanding the treatment of time into epic. This apparent grandiosity plays against the immediacy of each suffering subject, underlining the different experience of time in childhood. Small hurts can devastate when you're a child. Big hurts stay with you for years, as survivors of Hitler's Anschluss testify.
Now, in the age of virtual use and abuse of children, Helnwein's insistence on valuing the humanity and charm of the littlest, the least powerful, offers a counterpoint to claims that suffering counts most when you're grown-up. It opens his practice into a series of pictorial mise-en-scènes, as did Rembrandt's tableaux in The Blinding of Samson (1636) or The Night Watch (1642).
Perhaps most striking is Helnwein's invoking of memory, through the image and in the viewer. Something happened that the subject won't forget. Something happened that the viewer still remembers.
The Disasters of War 3
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 2007, 293 cm x 200 cm / 115'' x 78''




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