Gottfried Helnwein is an artist well known by his critique of the political situation, the crimes perpetrated during the WWII, Nazism and Holocaust.
The experience from the childhood spent in the post-Nazi Vienna, where nobody ever spoke about these issues irritated Helnwein, and so throughout his artistic career he expressed his critique and revolt against war atrocities and the politics of National Socialism.
“My art is not the answer, it is rather a question”
His installation “Ninth November Night” in 1988, in Cologne, irritated German audience and provoked protests and aggressiveness. The large-scale photomurals were vandalized. After a few days, numerous pictures had been slashed – one even stolen. Gottfried Helnwein however saw the exhibition as a process, which would continue and be reflected in later presentations. The pictures were not renewed, but patched up, so that this reminder of the persecution of Jewish people would bear the traces of a lack of insight and understanding in the present day.
The motif of the child, which prevails his work, is presented in an unsettling way, but also in unrivalled beauty and is his main metaphor of the innocent and helpless people upon whom the cruelty and the violence are being practiced by those in power.
As it has been accurately pointed out the child in Helnwein’s work is the symbol of innocence but also of innocence betrayed by today’s world malevolent forces of war, poverty, and sexual exploitation and the misguiding influence of modern media.
Beside the child images occupying the central place in his painting and the critical-historical subjects, the artist also did series of photos―self-portraits in which, showing himself in the act of self-torture, referring to the vulnerable and oppressed existence of contemporary individual.
The selection of subjects and the modes of representation make his works disquieting inviting and are perfectly synchronized with his deep inner intention not to console through his art but to provoke.