The effect of Helnwein's paintings upon me is like a child's answer to the question of what a dream is: "You can't escape it... you can't change anything."
The last words of Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now
are: "The horror. The horror...." The beheaded men, the crazy ones, the poetically-desperate slaughterer, they are all real! How senseless to try to understnad them logically. Destruction and disaster seem to be static indigestion. There is no antidote against them because every thing arises and exists simultaneously
. How many wars have got out of hand due to well-meaning help? How many saviours have perished in an attempt to save - even in everyday life? Dali's personal physician, for example, died while attending to Dali. his head suddenly fell forward onto the cheek of the utterly disturbed disturbing patient. Dali's somnambulistically safe path through fear-inducing, seemingly inaccessible worlds suddenly ended there, too.
Even if everything seems to flow the boundaries flow with it.
Helnwein likes to linger at boundaries. Whatever wants to pass through is closely examined by him. Like Goya he is one of the magic customs officials of art. (Rousseau, on the other hand, always stayed on the other side of the border even though he really was a customs official by profession!)
Whoever wants to enter the plane of art has to be able to understand and communicate reality. Helnwein is not only an artist but also a perfect transformer. The so called imagination should not come into play at the beginning of a world, but its nuclear power should be releases only at the moment of transformation, of metamorphosis.
"Realism is an entirely value-freee concept, although it often has a bad name among artist. Surely this is only due to fear. Dilettante dabblers in expressiveness use the word in vain as a protective shield against the murderous laser beam of art.
There is no such thing as a non-realist art, there is only good or bad art. Even an artist like Hans Staudacher is realistic in the best sense of the word. His game is simply real and he even comes close to a photographer in terms of the speed with which he works (often just a few seconds).
Photography was no more the death of painting than film was the death of the theatre.
Painting a picture is about as complex as the chemical production of photographic paper, its response to light and colours perhaps the setting up of a tripod, searching for the best angle, releasing the shutter etc. It is everything rolled into one, but it takes much more time. When the painting is finished it is in a way timeless. It confronts us as though it had always been there. It seems lifeless like a photograph, but it is not lifeless. The painter's subjective movement when he was painting it seems to have entered into it. If it is a successful painting the viewer can rekindle it for himself. What stares at us from a photograph, on the other hand, is merely the motif as such - which may of course also be interesting.
Donald Duck is basically an unlucky fellow. In Helnwein's admiration Walt Disney's ingenious serenity
becomes demonic - the sort of transformation when close friends suddenly appear threatening in our dreams. Everything is more or less the same except that the experience has suddenly turned into a nightmare. Whoever does not understand this skilful art of transformation can unfortunately not be Helnwein's friend. He will slip on the polished parquet floor of Helnwein's perfection and knock his head severely and entirely realistically!
Like many other artists Helnwein, too, searches for the abyss. He does this, however, of his own accord, with great gusto and all the consequences resulting from it. The added humour is as innocent and underhand as the humour of nature. It is nothing but a short breather in the midst of a permanent apocalypse. However, this humour is only the drug that allows us to survive a little longer. Paradoxically humour thus becomes the real pain.
15th April '99: I pass a news vendor, briefly glancing at the cover of the latest issue of News:
a child's face plastered over with band-aids. When I turn around and buy the magazine in the belief that it is a painting by Helnwein I discover that the child's face is that of a Kosovo victim. In the vibrating comparison with Helnwein's Pop Art the horror
increases and becomes more concrete.
In 1993 I was in Saint-Remy, following in van Gogh's footsteps as I had done many times before. it was one of those bright blue mistral days and I felt joyous shivers all over. Suddenly my wife asked me to stop. She felt like taking a photograph of me. I stood in the doorway to a building and grinned at her with a cigarette in my mouth. When I turned around I noticed that I was standing in the entrance to Nostradamus' birthplace. This was total bliss! A true anti-apocalypse!
Every day, every ordinary day is a succession of deja-vus, moved by small squelching apocalypses. Once I greeted a friend in the street from afar. When I got close and was ready to embrace him he turned out to be someone else - a case of mistaken identity. I turned the corner and there was my friend, about 50 yards further. I had perceived him already earlier through the stranger. The opposite experience: San Francisco 1984 A stranger who was filling up his car at a filling station came running up to me and embraced me jubilantly. He was an American whom I had never seen before. It took me two minutes to convince him that I was not his old friend who I obviously resembled in every detail (including my clothes!). When he left, the man looked at me doubtfully and strangely. All this reminds me a bit of Helnwein's painting Schlawiner / The good for nothings.
As long ago as 1963 a fellow-artist and I imagined the horrible future of free-lance artist.
The topic of our discussion was not so much finances as the necessity of letting go and totally abandoning oneself.
At the time I had the idea of inventing something like a "fitness training of geniuses".
In retrospect I must say that I know very few artists who have persevered in this imaginary training programme. Gottfried Helnwein is one of them.
The great thing about Helnwein's James Dean: He shows the private individual James Dean as the actor James Dean. he shows the feeling all of us would have had it we had happened to run into Jimmy on Broadway in the rain. He shows the desired vanishing point of our own and James Dean's reality. This specualtion is the crucial point of departure of Helnwein's magic.
Catalogue for Apokalypse by Wolfgang Bauer