Mercedes Helnwein

(Vienna 1979)

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Mercedes Helnwein

Mercedes Helnwein was born in Vienna in 1979, daughter to artist Gottfried Helnwein. As a child she moved with her family first to Germany and then to the south of Ireland in her teens. Since 2000 she has split her time between Tipperary, Ireland, and downtown Los Angeles. She consciously chose not to study art formally, preferring instead to develop a technical style uninfluenced by academic education.

Since childhood, her work has focused heavily on the female protagonist. And although her early years were spent far removed from the typically American lifestyle portrayed in her work, it is this chosen homeland, the United States, that has supplied most of her inspiration – via American motel culture, Southern Gothic traditions, film, music. In her recent work, Helnwein has examined the suburban American adolescence and family life, sourcing her materials from anonymous photographs or from characters posed in living room sets she creates in her studio. The scenes are executed primarily as large-scale oil pastels on paper, laying bare the angst and tension with which family rituals and youthful endeavours are often wrought. In addition, she deals with photography, short films and literature, all of which she often uses as reference material or as supplements in her exhibitions. Her work is shown worldwide in galleries in Berlin, London, Dublin, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, and in 2010 Damien Hirst bought up her entire show in London.

In Mercedes Helnwein’s images the plot is delivered via fragmented moments – enigmatic set-ups presenting a thread that the viewer can continue to spin at will. Her work telegraphs profound meaning and pivotal narrative, but scrambles its signals at the last moment, ultimately keeping its secrets.

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