News Update
January 27, 2008
Los Angeles Times
Arts & Culture
Lynell George
The artist, who has taken on war crimes, Catholicism and the Holocaust in his works, is inspired by the city.
Some might think that Los Angeles - its unrelenting sun, its one-step-away-from-reality perch is an incongruous place for someone like Helnwein. What he creates, regardless the medium - watercolor, oil, photography, performance art, sculpture - is a thorny psychological excursion into our sublimated self, our obscured corners and dark humors. His explorations into war crimes, Catholicism, disfigurement and the Holocaust are both unflinching and surgical. "Epiphany I (Adoration of a Magi)," a 1996 painting, renders the infant - interpreted both as Hitler and Christ - as being visited by not three men but five, in S.S. uniforms. His work is in museum collections around the world, including those of LACMA and the Smithsonian, and critics have labeled it grotesque, fearless, disturbing and "veer[ing] dangerously close to offensive." People are surprised, he says, when they discern that he doesn't "seem insane." The visceral reactions, he's come to realize, have as much to do with what's already in the viewers head as what he's created. "It's not my piece of canvas with tiny fractions of pigment," he explains. "The . . . art . . . has the potential of putting that finger on the spot, and it can trigger something that you'd rather not like to look at. But it's [already] in your own mind. That's what I think art can do."
Shaped by World War II
...His work routine extends his obsessive study of the world. "The task for me, for my life, since I was a kid, [is] I want to find out what is really going on," says Helnwein. "I was born in Vienna after the Second World War. Vienna was a very depressed place. And it was dark. I remembered never seeing anyone smile a lot. I never heard a song. People were broken. The Second World War was lost - the Nazi time was over - we were wrong again. Overnight, everybody was for democracy. So you can guess what that means."
The turnabout made him suspicious. It also filled him with questions that made people squirm. "Art, for myself, is a way to carry on this research in an aesthetic means. You always have to question: Why is that guy saying that now?"
Los Angeles Times, "Dark Inspiration"
Helnwein's work have been labeled grotesque, fearless and disturbing. "There needs to be somebody who holds it in your face", he says. People are surprised, he adds, when they discover that he isn't insane.
Los Angeles Times, "Dark Inspiration"

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