December 13, 2003
Shok Magazine
undergroud music art culture
Adeline Gustin
Interview with Cyril Helnwein
After rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names of contemporary art as a child, Cyril Helnwein now lives quietly in Ireland, surrounded by a circle of loyal friends -famous or not- close to whom he seems to have foud some kind of serenity. Glitters of fame ? He leaves them to others - who have more time to spend in official receptions and society dinners. Quick interview with a shadow artist who keeps trying to bring our world to light...
A.G. How are you doing ?
C.H. Fine, thanks.
We barely had the time and the luck to have a chat with Cyril Helnwein tant it's already time of letting him go back to his friends,to his negatives and to his world, in the same time so personal and so devilish familiar to all of us. Of this short interview we'll keep the memory of a man truly nice and obliging and of a genuine artist : for Cyril isn't one of those who see art as a way to earn one's living but really one of those who find their life through the prism of art. Now that you know the man a bit better you just have to check his photographs immediately to understand both who he is and what they are...
A.G. Most of our readers will recognize your name because your father did the artwork on Manson's Golden Age Of Grotesque, but few of them will know that YOU have introduced the two men to each other. Can you tell us how you met Marilyn Manson and dived in his universe ?
C.H. I met Manson last year at the premiere of Resident Evil, which he did the score for. I always knew that he and my father would be great friends and artistic collaborators, so I gave him a book of my father's work. Manson called me a couple days later and I arranged the first meeting for them. Manson was already familiar with my father's work (the Scorpion's "Blackout" cover) but didn't know who the artist was.
A.G. Besides Manson what are your influences ?
C.H. That is a tough question - I don't think I could ever fully answer that because there are many and they are constantly changing. Artistically, I am influenced by movies, music, books, paintings, photographs, my own dreams and things that occur in my life.
A.G. In which way do films, music, nature etc. show their effects in your work ?
C.H. Many different themes and various forms of art appeal to me. If everything looked the same, tasted the same and sounded the same, I would be very bored.
A.G. You grew up in a family of artists who mixed up with worldwide famous artists such as Andy Warhol; considering your peculiar familial background,were you bound to become an artist ?
C.H. I am definitely fortunate to have grown up the way I grew up - I wouldn't want it any other way. My parents didn't over-control me as a kid or treat me like an idiot, and I travelled a lot with my father and got to experience different cultures and I had childhood friends from all parts of the world. This definitely has a lot to do with who I am now, but at the same time this doesn't mean another person in my shoes would have grown up to become the same person. I think everyone is an artist to a bigger or lesser degree, some just don't know it or have it suppressed somehow
A.G. Is it difficult for you to be recognized as Cyril Helnwein and not as "the son of" ? Is being surrounded by artists a challenge for you or on the contrary restricting ?
C.H. No, I haven't had that problem because I'm not looking for celebrity recognition. I have friends from all levels or society - from bricklayer to moviestar, and I don't treat them different. They aren't friends of mine because of who my father is.
A.G. You are a great traveller but you seem to be particularly attached to Ireland and Great-Britain, what have you found there that you haven't elsewhere ?
C.H. Travelling has always been very important for me because if I stay in one place too long I start to get bored and life becomes sluggish. The last 5 years I have lived in Ireland, and for the first time I felt like this is where I belong. The people are incredibly open and friendly, and art and family are valued and respected. The country itself is beautiful and has inspired many great artists over centuries.
A.G. Your landscape pictures seem drawn from some "reveries of the solitary walker", are you the lonely type ? Do you need loneliness and meditation to create ?
C.H. Not necessarily. I have a large circle of close friends and I love nothing better than sitting in a cozy Irish pub with a fireplace and a traditional Irish band playing in the next room, while outside the rain and wind are pounding on the door. It is very relaxing to sit there with a good pint in hand, talking to my friends. At the same time I also like to be alone at times and without distraction when I concentrate on my photography.
A.G. What strikes me most when I looked at your work exposed on your website is the importance of contrast, is it just a subjective feeling or does it really matter to you when you make up your picture ?
C.H. Contrast does matter in my photographs. I don't just like to "capture a moment", but rather present an image that could be interpreted in many different ways - not abstract, but something that the viewer can connect with in their own universe and make up their own story to. Not something too obvious, but maybe containing a little hidden humor. Something that makes the viewer feel or think or react.
A.G. Most of your pictures are portraits, but the shooting session during Manson show is an exercise completely different ; how did you view the approach of it ?
C.H. I wanted to take photos that make you feel like you're there and you can see the performance. I had to run around a lot to get shots from different angles and so on, which wasn't so easy when a song is only a couple minutes long and you only have a couple songs during which you can shoot.
A.G. The last one now, I promise ! A classic ending interview question : have you any plans going on ? What are you up to at the moment ?
C.H. Well I just had a show in Los Angeles which was very successful, and now I'm planning my next series, which will be completely different from anything that's been published before. This will not be ready for another few months though. I'm also going to NY next week and I'll be taking some photos there.
Self-Portrait with Cyril
Andy Warhol with Gottfried Helnwein and his son Cyril
1981, Museum of Modern Art, Vienna

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