12 listopad 2005
San Francisco Chronicle
Kenneth Baker
Helnwein locates the latent menace in night visitors
Gottfried Helnwein's "Untitled" (2005), oil and acrylic on canvas, features an unsettling dreamlike encounter.
In one large painting, a girl sits on the edge of a bed in a barren room, staring into space. A giant blue rabbit with sightless insect eyes stands before her, clad in some sort of military garb. Despite their proximity, the two figures seem to occupy different dimensions. The frightful effect of the rabbit figure appears to register more in us than in the child whose vision we may be spying on. The vaguely erotic menace of the rabbit figure flares in another untitled picture in which a sort of Mad Hatter figure, all in yellow and masked, leans in to touch a sleeping girl with a gloved hand. For all the pictures' realism and their echoes of Lewis Carroll, they evoke psychological rather than literal monstrosity: the betrayal of innocence by imagination as well as reality.
Untitled
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 2005, 192 x 258 cm / 75 x 101''
Austrian-born, Los Angeles-based painter Gottfried Helnwein claims to care little for the shock effect of his work. But his recent pictures at Modernism have the same disconcerting power, though wielded more lightly, that the local art public felt in his 2004 exhibition at the Legion of Honor.
Here, as in the Legion shows, images of a young girl predominate. Helnwein paints her with photo-realist smoothness in close-up views so tight as to preclude psychological comfort at any viewing distance, despite the tenderness the pictures solicit.
Several larger untitled paintings bring us into the terrain of anachronism and irreality to which Helnwein believes an artist has special access.
In one large painting, a girl sits on the edge of a bed in a barren room, staring into space. A giant blue rabbit with sightless insect eyes stands before her, clad in some sort of military garb. Despite their proximity, the two figures seem to occupy different dimensions. The frightful effect of the rabbit figure appears to register more in us than in the child whose vision we may be spying on.
The vaguely erotic menace of the rabbit figure flares in another untitled picture in which a sort of Mad Hatter figure, all in yellow and masked, leans in to touch a sleeping girl with a gloved hand.
For all the pictures' realism and their echoes of Lewis Carroll, they evoke psychological rather than literal monstrosity: the betrayal of innocence by imagination as well as reality.
Helnwein takes on a difficult problem and only people who live with his work may know whether he solves it. Through painting, he regains some of the power lost to images by our overexposure to them. But like anything else one sees all the time, paintings settle into familiarity after a while, regardless of their content. We have to wonder how long his pictures retain their capacity to amplify the shrill emotional background tones of our social reality.
Earlier this year, to starkly polarized public response, Helnwein did the stage and costume designs for Maximilian Schell's presentation of Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier." The works on view are said to continue the painter's thinking about that project.
Untitled
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 2005, 192 x 249 cm / 75 x 98''
untitled
mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas), 2005, 192 x 249 cm / 75 x 98''




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