Born in 1948 in Vienna with a Catholic upbringing, the physical and emotional postwar environment profoundly affected young Gottfried Helnwein. And his steadfast disdain for authority, as well as violence and injustice, are all major themes in his artwork. His series Murmur of the Innocents, for example, involves young girls, sometimes holding guns, sometimes in bandages, sometimes lying in pools of blood.
Gottfried photographs his subjects, hired models or acquaintances, then projects the images onto massive canvases, where he traces details then creates extraordinarily convincing photorealistic paintings.
Although he left Austria in 1984, his accent remains, as SN&R discovered during a meeting at Crocker Art Museum this past week. Dressed head to toe in trademark black with tinted glasses and skulls—printed on a bandana that wrapped around his cranium, nearly pingpong-ball-sized skull rings—Gottfried explained why he paints Disney characters, why talking technique is annoying and what almost made him cry.
He spoke in front of two towering photographs of Marilyn Manson wearing Mickey Mouse ears; Helnwein famously hosted Manson’s wedding to Dita Von Teese in 2005 in his castle, Gurteen le Poer, in Ireland, where he lives during the summer. He inhabits Los Angeles during winter.