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Helnwein, Gottfried

Gottfried Helnwein Selbstportrait


*1948 Vienna

„Selbstportrait“ („Self Portrait“)
lower left: "Helnwein", verso original artist’s label with title and date 1986
acrylic on canvas
82¾×59 in

illustrated in: G. Helnwein (ed.): Gottfried Helnwein (exhibition cat. Mittelrhein-Museum, Koblenz/Würthle Gallery, Vienna/Leopold-Hoesch Museum, Düren, 1986-1987), Cologne 1986, n.p.

Self-portraits are an important motif in Gottfried Helnwein‘s work. This pictorial theme, first used by the artist in 1970, is not a classic self-portrait, but rather a scenic pictorial dramaturgy that challenges the viewer in unexpected ways. The performance-like self-staging with blinders and bandages that preceded Helnwein‘s painting process has its roots primarily in Viennese Actionism, especially in the works of Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Günter Brus.

The seeing painter, as the one who recognizes truths and makes them visible to his surroundings by artistic means, was blindfolded. The viewer is thus deprived of a communication with his pictorial counterpart and all the more urged to put himself in the place of the depicted. Thus, the introspection imposed on the artist by the blindfold becomes ours as well. The painter passes on to the viewer the ability to see and thus to know, thereby challenging him to take responsibility.

The artist becomes a martyr for the freedom of art. For art he will push himself to his limits and sacrifice everything, while nevertheless, or perhaps precisely because of this, he is exposed to the sharp criticism of society. At once one is reminded of the ambiguity of the term ‘passion’. The wideopen mouth comes across like a liberating blow, silent protest – made silent by the characteristics of the medium of painting, which is, however, visually all the more impressive.

Klaus Albrecht Schröder, Director of Albertina Vienna, emphasizes the importance of affect in Gottfried Helnwein‘s self-portraits: ”The tradition of an extreme depiction of affect extends from the ancient Laocoon group up through the recovery of individual-emotional expression in the late Gothic period to the expressive depictions of the ”Anima dannata“ – the damned soul – in Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The pictorial realization of extreme physical exertion as an affect-triggering factor also hinges on this traditional thread. […] Nevertheless, the independence of Helnwein‘s pictorial metaphor can hardly be emphasized enough: the particularity of representing oneself screaming.” 1

Gottfried Helnwein, born in 1948, studied at ”die Graphische“ in Vienna (1965-1969) and at the Academy of Fine Arts with Rudolf Hausner (1969-73). Today Helnwein lives and works in Ireland and Los Angeles and is considered one of the most internationally successful Austrianborn contemporary artists.

1 Klaus Albrecht Schröder: Das Vordergründige ist das Abgründige, Vienna 1987.

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