Internet
January 19, 2003
Hotdog
Paragon Publishing, Paragon House, London
Interview by Tristan Burke
The-Genius-of-Helnwein
The Genius of Helnwein
Hutdog talks to Gottfried Helnwein;the artist behind the greatest poster never sold.
The Rules of Attraction promotional campaign skirted with controversy on more than one occasion, but there's a story that remains largely untold. Helnwein: Two images I could not forget - the rape scene and the suicide of that girl in the bath tub - very startling and so different than anything you have ever seen about these subjects on film. There was a strange and sad beauty in the tardy, dreamlike movements of this girl with the expressionless face, slashing her wrists and slowly turning the water red. Theresa's acting, camera and music in that instant were one of the magic moments in cinema-history.
2002
Q:
How has Roger come to be familiar with your work?
Helnwein:
I don't know, he wrote me an e-mail many years ago when I still lived in Germany, and was interested in buying one of my major paintings. And we have been in contact ever since.
Q:
Which particular scenes from the film inspired you & dictated your approach?
Helnwein:
Two images I could not forget - the rape scene and the suicide of that girl in the bath tub - very startling and so different than anything you have ever seen about these subjects on film.
There was a strange and sad beauty in the tardy, dreamlike movements of this girl with the expressionless face, slashing her wrists and slowly turning the water red.
Theresa's acting, camera and music in that instant were one of the magic moments in cinema-history.
Q:
In your initial conversations with Roger after seeing the film, did your opinions differ or concur over the way you wanted the shoot to look?
Helnwein:
Roger didn’t suggest anything and we didn’t discuss what I was going to do. He just asked me if I would be willing to paint a picture that could be used as a poster for Rules of Attraction.
I have to be totally free in my decisions when I work - that's my condition.
I am not a graphic designer and I was not hired to do a job. It was more like a dialogue between a filmmaker and a fine artist.
I always liked to work with other artists and I'm fascinated by the potentialities of combining or connecting different forms of art. That's why I have worked with so many different tools and media in the past - from painting and photography to performance, installations in public space and stage- and costume-design for theater, opera and rock music. I also think artists should make posters again like the Russian Avantgarde did or John Heartfield or Picasso, and not leave this precious medium only to people who want to sell toilet paper.
Q:
Was the shoot ever uncomfortable (for yourself, Theresa, Shannyn) given the nature of what you were shooting?
Helnwein:
Never.
The first session I did with Shannyn alone, but then I decided to have another shoot with Shannyn and Theresa - we moved a bathtub into the studio and closed the doors - it was a silent process and an almost non-verbal communication and understanding between us three - in a dark studio with only some light on the tub, re-creating the moment when Shannyn finds Theresa's dead body - and that evolved into very intense, intimate and moving (visual) moments.
Q:
Are you content with the end results? Do you feel you achieved what was intended?
Helnwein:
I am always little bit surprised myself when I see the result, but if I would know the outcome already before I begin - what’s the point of doing it? Like – here I started to do a painting of Shannyn’s head pushed into a pillow and I ended up with photographs of two girls holding each other tight in a bathtub.
Q:
How do you feel about the relative controversy the pictures have caused?
Helnwein:
I am used to emotional reactions to my art, - that’s an important part of the process but I must admit I underestimated how Calvinistic and puritan America is when it comes to art and pictures - and Roger and Greg, the producer were very brave to try to actually post my picture in public space.
I was born and raised in a traditional Roman Catholic society and besides all the things that I disliked about it, in retrospective I must say they are not so much afraid of pictures because that’s what their whole tradition is based on – images and pictures.
photo-shoot with Shannyn and Theresa
2002




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