TANK Magazine, London, 01. February 2000

THE AMERICAN PAINTINGS
Gottfried Helnwein

These paintings are about America, I guess from a very European point of view.

They're based on photographs, mainly newspaper photographs, of the Fifties and Sixties from archives in New York and L.A. Most people in these pictures are real people, caught in some long forgotten, petty events.

I rearranged the scenes, introduced new characters, and created new relationships and contexts. And then I painted them in black and blue.
That's how I remember America back then in the early Fifties in Vienna, where I was born. The big war had ended a few years ago, but the city still seemed undecided as to whether this was the end of the world or if life should go on.

It was a strange, sad and surreal world. The streets were empty, the houses dark - many of them in ruins from the bombings. The few people

I saw seemed ugly, clumsy, and depressed.

I never saw anybody laughing and I never heard anybody sing. It was a world without sound and colour. Everything moved in slow motion, like slime. We had no phones, no television, no cars, no music, no pictures, except the paintings of tortured people in the Roman Catholic church which made a deep impression on me, haunting me in the sleepless nights of my childhood limbo.

And then, without any warning, suddenly there was America. When I saw the first picture of Elvis I was in a state of shock, because I couldn't believe that a human being could be so beautiful.

That was the beginning of the never-ending flood of American images that suddenly came over us and started to penetrate and transform everything.

The world that we inherited from our parents was a depleted, exhausted, and empty place. Most of the artists, writers, and intellectuals had left the country or were dead. The museums had been looted by the Nazis and everything that they called "degenerate art" was gone. All the books had been burned. And now all the images, pictures and designs of the Third Reich that had suffused everything for so many years had also been trashed overnight. It was a pretty empty place now.

 

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