Interviews
August 10, 2006
Bak Magazine
Coverstory
Ozan KARAKOC
Turkey
Interview with Gottfried Helnwein
Helnwein: "We are living in the age where materialism has finally triumphed. The world has been purged of fairies, elves, witches, angels, enchanted castles and hidden treasures. Dreaming and fantasizing is nowadays considered a chemical imbalance in the brain of the child. For reasons of national security there are no realms of imagination anymore in which to escape - children are held in the merciless headlight of the adults level-headed, common-sense-madhouse: a world of stock-markets, war, rape, pollution, television-moronism, prozak, prison-camps, miss universe-competitions, genetic engineering, child pornography, Ronald McDonalds, Paris Hilton and torture."
Helnwein, Bak Magazin, Turkey
2006
- The theme of our 5th issue is "Game". Do you remember the games you played when you were a child?
In my memory the times of my early childhood were dark and silent. Nothing much happened. There were no colors, no songs, no laughter. It was Vienna after the great war (WWII) - a truly depressing place then. The only toy I remember in my infant-limbo was a red Teddy bear that my grandma had made for me. And although I kind of liked this mute and ugly little guy and I was holding him tight all the time, his expression was that of somebody who just had a lobotomy and seemed far too sad to play any games.
But all that changed one day, when suddenly I opened my first Donald Duck-comic book and I entered the sacred territory of Duckburg. For the first time in my life I saw color and realized that I was in a world of wonders and miracles - without boundaries and with infinite possibilities.
When I joined tycoon Scrooge Mc Duck diving with him into his enormous pile of money and when I was burrowing through it and tossing it up - I was playing for the first time - and that was the day I was born.
- In the near past, television programs and comics for children were much more innocent. Softer drawings and classical music were accompanying their good times. However, now, war and violence are the only themes of these kinds of programs.
We are living in the age where materialism has finally triumphed. The world has been purged of fairies, elves, witches, angels, enchanted castles and hidden treasures. Dreaming and fantasizing is nowadays considered a chemical imbalance in the brain of the child. For reasons of national security there are no realms of imagination anymore in which to escape - children are held in the merciless headlight of the adults level-headed, common-sense-madhouse: a world of stock-markets, war, rape, pollution, television-moronism, prozak, prison-camps, miss universe-competitions, genetic engineering, child pornography, Ronald McDonalds, Paris Hilton and torture.
- You prefer communicating with children instead of adults. You say everything is possible in their worlds and there are no limitations for their imaginations. This is a great power that we will never have again. Do you want to come back to your youth sometimes? If you had a chance to do that with your present knowledge, what kind of changes would you make in your life?
Actually I never succeded in growing-up completely. I never managed to get rid of my child-like naiveté and amazement about this strange world around me. My life so far was mainly a succession of mistakes and stepings into piles of dog-shit, but I always tried to learn from my faux pases, and if I could start all over again, there are lots of things that I would do completely different. Primarily, I wouldn't listen so much to all these important, bloated, self-appointed authorities and "experts" that run our society and "care" so much and are so "well-intentioned".
- You are well known especially for the depressing atmospheres you create in your artworks. Additionally, your studio gives the same feelings when we look in from outside. Does this mysterious style represent your personality and way of life?
Leonardo said: "The mind of the painter should be like a mirror which always takes the colour of the thing that it reflects.."
Being a mirror of today's world is a hell of a job. I can't help but reflect some of the stuff that's going on around me: for example, the mutilated little corpses of the children in Irak and Lebanon after some "peace-keeping force" blew their brains out with a white-phosphor bomb. These kinds of pictures keep flickering over our television- and computer-screens these days. Yes, there is a reverberation of that in my pictures, but it doesn't mean you are seeing the man behind the mirror.
Deep inside I am an italian renaissance-man: I live in a great house with a big family and many friends: artists, writers and musicians, children, animals and other benign weirdos, surrounded by bucolic landscapes. Our dinners, like in southern Italy, take forever and we discuss philosophy, art, politics and history, play music, recite poems, some of us ride horses and my wife even joins the ancient set-dances in rural pubs.
Sometimes I like to retire to my alchemical tower to study and read.
- Which artists or art movements inspire you while creating your original style?
Carl Barks' universe of Duckburg, and the "Romantic" era of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe both had a deep impact on me. But also Goya, Francis Bacon, E.A. Poe, Arthur Rimbaud, Antonin Artaud, William Burroughs, and Bukowski. In music: Bach, Mozart, Richard Wagner, the blues, the Rolling Stones, Captain Beefheart to mention a few names on an almost endless list..
- As a very talented painter who also takes photographs, what do you think about hyperrealism and why do you prefer it?
I don't really care much about labels and -isms. I am not an art-historian and I am not too much interested in the technical aspects of art. I am interested in that quality of art that has the power to cause an emotional impact, that can touch and move and startle you, that can set your heart on fire, that can turn your inner world upside down.
- Which one is more important in your paintings? Aesthetics or the viewers' feelings?
It's not a question of either or: because in art it's the first that is causing the latter.
- Actor and director Sean Penn says "Helnwein is the most important living painter." Not only your collectors and friends, but also people all around the world know you and love your outstanding works. This means Gottfried Helnwein will never die. Does this excite you?
Thanks. You are very kind.
But you are right - I will never die and yes, I like it.
- Are you interested in movies? If so, which directors and country styles do you find closer to yourself in terms of visual comprehension?
David Lynch, "City of Lost Children", "One Flew over the Cokoo's Nest", Kubrick, Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, French Cinema, Elia Kazaan, Billy Wilder, Walt Disney, etc.
- Imagine that there is a country named Helnwein and you are the owner of it. What would its flag look like? What would be the form of governance? What kind of life would Gottfried Helnwein give to his people?
It would probably be a Pirate flag with a golden (Donald) duck added to it.
The following things would be forbidden in my country: Any form of Miltary, secret services, mental hospitals, psychiatrists, prisons, stock-markets, genetically engineered food, nuclear power plants, Coca Cola, Mc Donalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken...




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