新着情報
2005/09/02
THEBOOK Los Angeles
magazine
Mia Taylor
Artist Gottfried Helnwein isn't in Kansas anymore.
Austrian born artist Gottfried Helnwein so often finds himself in the eye of the storm, it must feel like home. He is known for highly charged paintings and photographs of suffering children, Nazi themes, and then also magnificent bucolic landscapes. His fans outnumber his detractors, though, and he has won many admirers and collectors both in his adoptive home of Los Angeles, and around the world. Among them, California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenneger, actor Sean Penn, and musician Marilyn Manson, who is a frequent subject. He identifies strongly with the oppressed, and society's most vulnerable members: children. "When I see how kids grow up , how they are neglected and mistreated , how they get polluted with drugs, junk food, insane television and bad schools, it's terrible, - and dangerous, because they are our future. Children are sacred - we need to protect, support and encourage them."
Helnwein in his studio
2005
Austrian born artist Gottfried Helnwein so often finds himself in the eye of the storm, it must feel like home. He is known for highly charged paintings and photographs of suffering children, Nazi themes, and then also magnificent bucolic landscapes. His fans outnumber his detractors, though, and he has won many admirers and collectors both in his adoptive home of Los Angeles, and around the world. Among them, California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenneger, actor Sean Penn, and musician Marilyn Manson, who is a frequent subject. When he is not traveling with his exhibits, he divides his time between his downtown Los Angeles loft and studio, and an expansive country home in Ireland.
Recently he became the focus of another controversy with his radical stage and costume design for the Los Angeles Opera’s production of Der Rosenkavalier.
His three monochrome, primary colored sets, with cast dressed to match, save for one character doused head to toe in a contrasting color (in the first act for instance, the Baron is like a daub of yellow paint thrown at a blue canvas), Alice in Wonderland rabbits, Jacobins on stilts, eerie bandaged children, ultimately won glowing reviews and high attendance. Helnwein remains sanguine about the experience, as he does over every other controversy he’s found himself embroiled in in the course of his 20 year career.
Based on his images, one is not sure what to expect upon the notorious artist. In fact, he is friendly, welcoming, and chatty, not at all the dark, brooding, Teutonic stereotype one might imagine. Helnwein sports a standard uniform of black jeans and shirt, dark glasses, and a bandana tied around his head, which give him the appearance of a lost member of the Rolling Stones. We talk in the courtyard of his downtown studio, sipping green tea brought by his beautiful flame-haired wife, Renate. “L.A. is the most fascinating place on earth right now,” he enthuses. He likes the fact that the art scene in L.A. is so different than in New York or London, less controlled and organized, which allows him to create in peace, free from scrutiny and expectations.
Helnwein was born into the grey, bombed out landscape of post-war Austria, among a defeated people, for whom many unpleasant topics were off limits, and creeping exculpatory myths about its role in the war were propagated. “Austria was presented as Hitler’s first victim,” he says. “I had a feeling that whatever was presented to me from childhood on was all lies, Wizard of Oz fake—I want to know what’s really going on. Who is running the show? Who? Why? How?” The young Helnwein felt acutely oppressive constraints of conformity, and knew that he did not belong in this environment. “I hated everybody, the teachers, the schools. I realized that they want to squeeze their own belief systems into you, stupid belief systems, which have nothing to do with me.” He sought refuge in American pop culture. The bright, colorful world of Donald Duck comic books, as drawn by Carl Barks, was more real to him than his own. “What saved my life, literally, was the first comic book from America…it was like escaping a bad, cheap, black and white silent movie, and stepping into a real world. I wanted to be in Duck World, to jump into Uncle McScrooge’s piles of money.”
The Disney influence is clearly visible in his work, with depictions of a monster Mickey Mouse, a floating Donald Duck, or portraits of Marilyn Manson in a Mickey Mouse hat. Surprisingly, among his admirers is none other than Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney.
As a young man, Helnwein challenged the culture of silence and willed amnesia head on, with works that forced people to confront the ugliness and fear of both the past and the present, as well as the demons within. He attended Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts, which had once rejected an applicant by the name of Adolf Hitler. “That was probably their biggest mistake. Better a bad painter than a very good dictator.”
He identifies strongly with the oppressed, and society’s most vulnerable members: children. He first started painting wounded and suffering children when he was at the academy. “I was researching child abuse. Thousands of children every year get abused, killed, beaten to death in the German speaking countries. And it was never mentioned.” Nor does it faze him that some might interpret his own work as colluding in the exploitation of children. “Because I am not. We are living in sick society, if someone likes children, then automatically [people think] he wants to fuck them.
It’s very sad. When I see how kids grow up , how they are neglected and mistreated , how they get polluted with drugs, junk food, insane television and bad schools, it’s terrible, - and dangerous, because they are our future. Children are sacred – we need to protect, support and encourage them.
Anybody who abuses a child --I don’t believe in the death penalty--but definitely they should be locked away, maybe in a labor-camp. There’s no excuse for a crime like that. I don’t care what justifications psychologists come up with. You don’t touch a kid.”
“I think also most children would be potential artists, but the education system takes it out of them. A child that gets through this education system and still wants to create--that’s the people who are artists. I feel a closeness to children in that way.” He has lived up to his beliefs in raising his own children, and indeed, all four are artists. “That is the only thing in my life I’m proud of. When I was a child, I thought if I ever have kids, they can do all the things I can’t do, that I want to do. I was working around the world, traveling all the time, but I have never had a second’s problem with any of the kids.” He is ready with advice for parents: “The first thing I recommend is be honest. And the main thing is to have respect. Treat a kid, no matter how little and fragile, as a real person. I told my kids everything that today with modern psychology, [they say] you shouldn’t. When they were in kindergarten, I told them about concentration camps, about Hitler. They understand much better than grown ups. They asked why, and how could this happen? And I explained to them that can happen again, anywhere. They have never touched drugs in their lives. I always said, if you want to do drugs, then you should know what it is. I told them I’ve taken it, and about shit I had to go through, and about friends of mine who died and ended up in mental hospitals. All my kids are very creative because I always encouraged them. We never tried to stop them from doing anything. They don’t know any other way.”
Reactions to Helnwein’s work tend to extremes, but he accepts all of them. There is the taxi driver who proudly showed off his SS identification after admiring Helnwein’s deliberately kitsch portrait of Hitler. “No reaction upsets me. Because it’s a part of the process.” Nor is it his intention to shock: “No. Never. Everything that exists in here, [indicating his head] I want to show. I always paint what I feel I have to. I found out whatever I do, there will always be people upset.”
He was once threatened with a lawsuit by the widow of an SS officer he had had painted into one of his works. The painting, Epiphany (Adoration of the Magi) depicts the Madonna and Child surrounded by SS officers. The widow complained the painting was “a slander. He is depicted as racist.’ How much more racist can you be than an SS officer?” The original photograph depicted Hitler in the bunker surrounded by SS officers. “A reporter asked, ‘would you mind if the original photograph would be seen, where he’s standing next to Adolf Hitler?’ She said she wouldn’t. That’s history and she’s proud of her husband. She kept threatening…and she mentioned that she had powerful friends, but then she gave up”
“There was one exhibition in the publishing house where they printed all the big Austrian newspapers, and there was such an [outcry] that after three days they closed the exhibition. A newspaper editor called me very upset. He said,‘when I saw [your work] I was convinced you were insane. After talking to you, I think you’re probably normal, so how could you do something like that? I couldn’t sleep for days, I have this stupid picture in my head all the time, It’s horrible.’ I asked him, ‘have you been in the last war?’ He said yes. ‘Did you kill people?’ Yes. ‘Did you see people die?’ Yes. ‘Could you sleep?’ He said yes. I said, ‘isn’t it interesting that you have no problem with all that, but then you see a picture–and you know what that is? It’s a piece of paper with tiny particles on it…an illusion in two dimensions–and you can’t sleep.” What I found is it’s not my picture that is the problem for these people, it’s their own pictures, back in their head.”
“And I also think if you are a true artist and not a prostitute, like many of the people in the entertainment industry, then you will upset some people…Art can touch something in you. You should be changed after seeing it.”
The Book LA V.2 2005, featuring Christina Ricci, Gottfried Helnwein, Olivia Wilde, Giovanni Ribisi...




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