… the salient feature of the absurd age I was at – an age which for all its alleged awkwardness, is prodigiously rich – is that reason is not its guide, and the most insignificant attributes of other people always appear to be consubstantial with their personality. One lives among monsters and gods, a stranger to peace of mind. There is scarcely a single one of our acts from that time which we would not prefer to abolish later on. But all we should lament is the loss of the spontaneity that urged them upon us. In later life, we see things with a more practical eye, one we share with the rest of society; but adolescence was the only time when we ever learned anything.”
This is Mercedes Helnwein’s fourth solo exhibition at the Molesworth. Her latest body of work continues her own very singular exploration of the iconography of the American childhood and adolescence.
“Coming-of-age stories (in any art form) are always some of the best,” Helnwein says. “It’s that weird, fleeting part of one’s life that somehow has the power to impact/haunt all the rest of it. A time of debilitating passion, hormones, freedom/lack of freedom, and the incurable, ever present struggle to be ‘cool’. You look back at it and you see an extra-terrestrial version of yourself – same person, different planet.
“It’s the part of your life where you are still entitled to your dreams and the future is yours, but also, where parents and teachers micromanage the show, and some jerk on top of the school food chain can make your life a living hell.
“Especially through the filter of American culture, the act of growing up can be a fascinating visual phenomenon – Halloween, cheerleaders, prom queens, little league baseball, birthday parties with weird hats… It’s very fertile ground for storytelling, and everything in my work is based on the potentiality of a story. I’m always an audience member when it comes to my own work — I have to be entertained by the promise of a story, or I’m not interested. I don’t need to know all the details of the story, but I want the image to be an entrance point to something.”
Mercedes Helnwein was born in Vienna, daughter to renowned painter and art provocateur Gottfried Helnwein. She later moved to Ireland with her family, where she spent her teens drawing, writing and absorbing influences, which range from the Southern Gothic to the cartoons of Robert Crumb; from Nineteenth Century Russian literature to American motel culture and the Delta blues. The result is a style distinctly her own – unsettling, direct and quietly humorous.
In 2003, she added Los Angeles as a second home. Teaming up with friend and photographer Alex Prager, Mercedes Helnwein began exhibiting her art regularly around L.A. in unorthodox one-night shows. Her intricate pencil drawings of weird goings-on soon began to attract a strong following, making her a vital presence the L.A. art scene. She followed these shows with solo outings in Berlin, London and twice at The Molesworth Gallery in Dublin. Mercedes Helnwein currently divides her time between downtown Los Angeles and Ireland. Her work is in many important international collections, while her most recent exhibition in London was bought out in its entirety by Damien Hirst, who is amassing one of the UK’s most important collections of contemporary art.
Image credit: Mercedes Helnwein, Class Picture VII, 2018
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