Gottfried Helnwein - Of Painting
Gottfried Helnwein is doubtlessly one of the most prominent and controversial hyperrealist painters of our time.
Hyperrealist painting stands in contrast to conceptual art which pursues more metaphysical topics, prompting some authors to proclaim the end of painting.
However, painting never came to an end, instead it kept existing, renewing and transforming itself. Although technology made enormous progress, seemingly reaching the maximum of realistic image representation, hyperrealist painting did not become obsolete. The skilful brushstroke of the human hand still touches the human soul. The key to the viewer’s spirit is the possibility of multiple interpretations, even if the image could have been a photograph.
Gottfried Helnwein already had a first solo exhibition of his drawings at the Albertina Museum at a very young age. After another one on 1985, an extensive retrospective with 200 works was dedicated to him in the Albertina in 2013. The 250.000 visitors it had remain an unequalled record attendance for a living artist in this institution.
Now the artist has donated seven large formatted paintings to the Albertina. In this selection he remained faithful to the subject that characterized his entire career, showing a representative sample of his œuvre.
Wounded children are a recurring topic in his gloomy imagery, as well as cartoon characters and Nazis, pop culture (as represented by Mickey Mouse here), there is war, childhood, injury, victims, danger, suffering and violence, all these trademark subjects of Helnwein are represented in the donation.
One of the pictures, titled „The Murmur of the Innocents 39“ shows a wounded, bloodstained girl.
„Epiphany III (Presentation at the Temple 2)“, reminds of the adoration of the Christ.
It is based on a photograph that shows disfigured British veterans of World War I. They are standing around a table with a sleeping little girl on it.
The art of capturing reality on the canvas with the brush and filling it with life gives continuity to the image’s aura, thanks to the ability to confront reality -or hyper reality- with the imagination. These are not pleasant products of the imagination, Helnwein’s pictures show the dark sides of humanity by addressing controversial yet simple subjects. It is a transgression of the human spirit, even including cartoon characters he loved since childhood. Yet his work does not show their nice side. Mickey Mouse’s disturbing grin on the large format « Pink Mouse 2 » conveys a feeling of childhood nightmares.
The facial expressions of his characters bear messages that are beyond the observer’s comprehension. He is confronted with something different from visible reality, the characters themselves see something we cannot see, their gaze cannot be decoded by us.
The impact of these seven paintings is not so much owed to their realism but rather to the intensity with which the artist charges every single image. (written by Cem Angeli)