Mercedes Helnwein – Temptation to Be Good

by Nathan SpoorPosted on

Internationally renowned artist Mercedes Helnwein brings a new body of workto Los Angeles this weekend, gracing the esteemed Merry Karnowsky Gallery.Helnwein’s new work is a stunning collection of large-format expressive femalesubjects, accompanied by a soundtrack by her brother – composer Ali Helnwein– and hosted by musician Beck. The artist, a co-resident of Ireland widelycollected and in critical demand, will be in attendance to grace the openingwith her enigmatic and mesmerizing presence. Join us as Hi Fructose gets anexclusive preview into some of the artist’s intriguing works, Nathan Spoor reports.

Thank you for your time, Mercedes. Your work appears, if you will, to be onthe literal side. What is the attraction or core element to this attraction?

All my work, whether literary or visual, is probably attached to America by anumbilical cord.

Where do you feel this base in Americana began?

I can blame this partially on various influences that hit me in my early teens,amongst them: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, the Delta blues, RobertCrumb’s sketchbooks, Tom Waits, Bukowski, Steinbeck and John Registerpaintings. These artists thoroughly cared for me growing up and baby-satme through a modern-day culture that didn’t do anything for me. I was by nomeans, ONLY influenced by American culture – I love Victor Hugo and AlexandreDumas, Rimbaud, and Dostoevsky and Dickens, etc. – but I’m always drawnback to this simultaneously idyllic and dark universe, whether that’s a long goneage of pies cooling in windows, or the vast array of losers that crawl its streets,bars and strip malls. Even the banal life-styles stored safely in between the topand the bottom of this country interest me – maybe because I refuse to believethat there isn’t something unbearably weird hidden within the fat layers of whatis “normal”.

Do you feel that this stems from some belief or feeling that there is a greatdeal of “possibility” in this landscape?

There is so much space in this country, so many cultures and so many crevicesfor impossible things to be happening, and maybe because I am European allthose minute details seem like Disneyland to me. I’m fascinated with Jesus andthe Devil, and the raging battle that they are having all across the middle of thecountry. I love the small ghost towns in the South, I like the wastelands, theabandoned buildings, the bizarre signs and individuals living their lives in waysI’ve never encountered.

What is this “temptation to be good,” where does that figure in?

I think the temptation to be good is a dilemma that exists in some of those towns,pawnshops, living rooms and churches. Whatever that struggle is.

Do you attach definitive meaning to the work, or does it function on its ownfor a narrative effect left to the viewer?

I’m not dictating what my drawings mean, but for me personally, there is no doubtthat the DNA of my work comes from some weird American true story.

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