“A writer as well as visual artist, Mercedes Helnwein does not so much tell stories or even capture moments in her drawings as she triggers possibilities—the possibilities being vaguely unlikely, vaguely unsavory, and not-so-vaguely menacing, rather like inverse Magrittes. Helnwein’s basic ingredient is the fully, fashionably, clothed human figure, more often than not regarding the viewer or about to; occupying a peculiarly lit, but familiar space, they are shown engaged in a solipsistic soliloquy— self-absorbed and drenched in an almost urgent ennui—with someone and/or something else. The something else is never a weapon, and the someone else never seems to be a love interest or BFF, so the narrative tension keeps to a simmer. But that tension is the more pervasive for its very indirection and indefinability…”
-Peter Frank for Art Ltd
Mercedes Helnwein was born in Vienna, Austria, daughter to renowned painter and art provocateur Gottfried Helnwein.
She moved to Ireland with her family, where she spent her teens drawing and writing. Undamaged by art schools, outside opinions, peers or fads, she developed a visual style inspired by entirely personal influences which range from Southern Gothic traditions to the cartoons of Robert Crumb, to nineteenth Century Russian literature, American motel culture and the Delta blues.
Her first art shows were self-instigated, unorthodox one-night events in Los Angeles often with one or two other inexperienced young artists, most commonly photographer Alex Prager. Sponsored by various alcoholic beverage companies, magazines, and unlikely entities such as Land Rover, these shows generated a surprisingly genuine response in a city often criticized for its shallowness. The development of her work over the years and regular exhibitions at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery has earned her a dedicated following and established her as a vital representative of the L.A. art scene.
Working with media ranging from black pencil, oil pastel, oil paints, film, choreography, fashion and music, her work has spread into many different realms and has brought about collaborations for films with fashion labels (such as Orla Kiely), contributing album artwork for artists like Beck, as well as regular film collaborations with her brother, composer Ali Helnwein.
Since her start as an artist in L.A., her work has been exhibited regularly throughout the U.S. and Europe. 2010 her exhibition “Whistling Past the Graveyard” was exhibited in London and bought up by Damien Hirst.
Her novel “The Potential Hazards of Hester Day” was published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, and in French by La Belle Colére in 2014 as “La Ballade d’Hester Day”.
Mercedes Helnwein currently lives and works in downtown Los Angeles and Ireland.