"Gottfried Helnwein's extraordinary work depicts the fragile innocence
of children. Devoid of grown-up sentimentalism, his images can be
overwhelming, especially those that show how that innocence falters in
an adult world. Helnwein censors nothing." —Jonathon Keats Forbes,
As a child growing up in post-War Vienna, Gottfried
Helnwein lived in a world of bleakness, amidst adults who could neither
acknowledge nor forget the responsibility they shared for Nazi
atrocities. Only when he encountered Mickey Mouse comic books, imported
from the United States, did he begin to experience "a world full of won
ders". To this day, Mickey remains for Helnwein a transitional figure,
passing magically between the innocent imagination of children and the
cruel world in which they're forced to live.
Of Mice and
Children, Gottfried Helnwein's 16th one-person exhibition at Modernism,
captures both the internal and external experience of childhood in a
series of new and recent paintings. Intense portraits of children are
exhibited together with paintings of Mickey and Donald Duck that are
simultaneously alluring and menacing.
As always with Helnwein, a
multiplicity of sources inform this body of work, including the writing
of John Steinbeck, which Helnwein references in the title of his
exhibition. Steinbeck's sense of humanity pervades all of these
paintings, and all of these paintings reflect Steinbeck's approach to
his craft, as encapsulated in a 1938 journal entry that Helnwein keeps
close at hand: "In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a
base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other, you
will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate, and
nearly always leads to love."
Over the past four decades,
Gottfried Helnwein has developed a remarkably powerful and idiosyncratic
visual vocabulary reflected in his masterful use of diverse media:
painting, drawing, photography, performance, and stage design. Helnwein
addresses a broad range of social and political issues, resulting in
challenging and provocative artworks. Although at times disturbing,
these works are consistently moving, and seek spiritual beauty often
approaching the transcendental.
Most recently the subject of a
major retrospective at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Helnwein’s work
has been exhibited extensively worldwide, and is featured in the
collections of important museums in Europe, Asia and the United States.