Asleep In The Wind


I’ve chosen Patrick Morrison and Glen Baxter to exhibit with me for various reasons, most importantly the fact that their work genuinely entrances me.  To that add the fact that they both currently work on paper, as I do, and this intrigued me because I am very much in love with paper.

I had always known Patrick Morrison’s work as very bright and vibrant.  His paintings were almost moving on the canvas – very much alive with impossible colors, thick and beautifully contrasting each other, almost wrestling each other.  I had heard rumors of something new brewing in his studio, and when I went to visit him earlier this year I walked into an explosively different world.  His new series has a rough and haunting air to it that immediately involves one emotionally and makes one an accomplice to that world.  His dark, monochromatic black and gray scenes reminded me of the underbelly of an anonymous city, or dreams lurking at the back of one’s head.  Painted in acrylic and oil on paper, these paintings are gracefully sloppy, with dark, translucent layers dripping over the scenery — sometimes revealing hints of red or yellow glowing underneath.  Patrick’s studio walls were covered with these works, and then he pulled back his studio rug and pulled more works from underneath.  I thought this very appropriate for an Irish man.

I had been a fan of Glen Baxter’s work since the age of fifteen.  I’ve had old exhibition invites of his taped to my fridge, his posters on my wall, photocopies of his drawings framed and hanging in my bathroom.  There is so much wrong with this world, aesthetically speaking (not that it’s perfect in other ways, either), but Baxter’s work has always helped level that out for me a little.  His work feels right in the marrow of my bones. Very far removed from Patrick’s dark, dreamlike paintings on paper or my own oil pastels, Glen Baxter inhabits his world with cartoon-like cowboys fiercely enmeshed in adventures with modern art.  That, or far weirder scenarios involving explorers, vintage school kids, detectives and a variety of props — cacti, for instance, or bizarre contraptions that people wear on their heads.  “Weird” is a very important adjective, the operative one in describing Baxter’s work.  And since that word also encapsulates a quality very dear to my heart, I fell for his work. Glen Baxter is the master of weird.

I couldn’t be more thrilled with the company I am dragging along to my exhibition, and I am very thankful to them for agreeing to let me do so.

October 3, 2011


Temptation To Be Good


All my work whether literary or visual is probably attached to America by an umbilical cord.

I can blame this partially on various influences that hit me in my early teens, amongst them: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, the Delta blues, Robert Crumb’s sketchbooks, Tom Waits, Bukowski, Steinbeck and John Register paintings. These artists thoroughly cared for me growing up and baby-sat me through a modern-day culture that didn’t do anything for me. I was by no means, ONLY influenced by American culture – I love Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, Rimbaud, and Dostoevsky and Dickens, etc. – but I’m always drawn back to this simultaneously idyllic and dark universe, whether that’s a long gone age of pies cooling in windows, or the vast array of losers that crawl its streets, bars and strip malls. Even the banal life-styles stored safely in between the top and the bottom of this country interest me – maybe because I refuse to believe that there isn’t something unbearably weird hidden within the fat layers of what is “normal”.

There is so much space in this country, so many cultures and so many crevices for impossible things to be happening, and maybe because I am European all those minute details seem like Disneyland to me. I’m fascinated with Jesus and the Devil, and the raging battle that they are having all across the middle of the country. I love the small ghost towns in the South, I like the wastelands, the abandoned buildings, the bizarre signs and individuals living their lives in ways I’ve never encountered.

I think the temptation to be good is a dilemma that exists in some of those towns, pawnshops, living rooms and churches. Whatever that struggle is.

I’m not dictating what my drawings mean, but for me personally, there is no doubt that the DNA of my work comes from some weird American true story.

Mercedes Helnwein

October 12, 2010


East Of Eden


This is my new exhibition.

I’m going to say a few quick profound things about it which you can either read or skip, but people ask all the time what things mean, so this is my attempt to counter-act the impending questions.

I’ll begin by stating the obvious: I am using a title that John Steinbeck gave to a book he wrote, which was published in 1952, and which is a work of art that I admire ridiculously and helplessly. Steinbeck in turn got it from the Bible.

But I don’t necessarily mean to make a direct reference to the Bible or even to Steinbeck’s book – although traces of it I know have lodged themselves deep into my anatomy, as they should. Rather, I’m making a reference to the quiet and startling drama those words are heavy with in my opinion.

They give me the idea of something fatally misplaced by a few inches. Transparently wrong, but maybe in such a gentle way that it can go unnoticed by millions of onlookers.

The imagery in this show is kind of hinged on that idea. The work was mostly finished when I put the title on it, but as always, the right title explains a lot of things to myself about my work.

I think it’s safe to presume that “East of Eden” is a good match. There’s probably someone out there who disagrees, but as R. Crumb said the other night, “You can’t please everyone.”

Below is all the info for you to get to the exhibition. I hope you will make it. You are excused if there is a major body of water in the way.

All the best,

September  29, 2009


Whistling Past the Graveyard


“Whistling Past the Graveyard” is an American idiom, and means pretty much just that: whistling while walking past a graveyard. Faking a cheerful front. Trying to smother some fear.

For some reason this idiom made sense in relation to my new body of work. It just seemed to fit. Judging by their expressions I’d say there’s probably something the girls in these drawings would rather not talk about – something they’d prefer to sit on. And they’re keeping it in, but it’s kind of leaking out of their faces.

I don’t know what that something is, since I can’t read their minds. These girls take on their own life as soon as I start to put them down on paper and they stare back at me. They don’t really feel that they owe me any explanations.

In any case, I realize there’s a lot of toys going on in this series and with that comes a sense of something innocent, frivolous and child-like. I do thinkthere is something innocent there, but as I said, I still have a hunch that the general train of thoughts in the girls’ heads are going in the opposite direction.

When I start a drawing I don’t go about it intellectually. That is to say, I don’t sit down and wonder, “Well, first of all what am I trying to say with this? What is my message?” I don’t map anything out with a pie chart. Fine art is far too visual a process to include much rational thought (and maybe I speak for myself here). In fact, sometimes I feel it’s beyond visual – like some organic process in a phantom organ behind my liver.

So I can guess at what’s happening in these drawings, just like anybody else, and if you’re interested in my personal guess I can expound on it. But it’s just a guess. I’m less interested in narrating and more interested in presenting an image that will crank up other people’s imagination and hopefully send it somewhere really weird. And the titles I attach should only expedite that.

I hope that helps scratch the itch.
30 Aug. – 20 Sep. 2008

August 30, 2008


Phone Sounds Like Thunder


It’s 1:09 am on a Sunday, and life seems like it needs to be forced through with a jack-hammer. When the cookie crumbles that way, you’d better be ready. You need to be made of heavy metal just to live through the atrocities, the technicalities, the banalities and the phone-company service representatives of a normal day.

Well, it’s late. I guess sometimes you’ve just got to listen to Chuck Berry and let all the assholes of the world keep themselves company for a while.

April 5, 2007


Kind of Like a Brilliant Accident


An Essay on the String Quartet No.1 in E Minor composed by Ali Helnwein

Ali Helnwein’s quartet is a journey through a set of ineffable moods – classical and honoring all traditions of classical structure but made for a new millennium. It is excellent proof that classical music has no reason to play dead. And neither does modern classical music have to exist purely of dissonant and intellectual sounds that you need a college degree to listen to. “Modern art” of whatever shape, form or size should not be concerned with being an erudite celebration of things that only a few people can feel snug about because they’re holding a martini glass and made some sense out of some metal stick protruding from the wall of a gallery. Art has only one purpose: to move. To move on all levels. You should never walk away from a true piece of art and be left the same – un-dented, un-changed, with nothing new floating about in your head.

Moderm classical music, just like any category of art, still has the power to blow your mind and splatter it against the wall behind you. I think Ali Helnwein is one of the few composers who knows this to be true.

You might be sitting somewhere in the sweltering heat of midday Los Angeles – maybe in traffic, under billboards and advertisements that remind you that this is the era of cheap subsititutes – blunt, cynical, clumsy. But you are also sitting in a town whose underground sometimes produces genuine products of a new romantic movement. . .

Click here for full article.

March 22, 2006


Trouble Has Style In Nightmares

road sm.jpg

…Did you ever realize that? Real life is often referred to as a drag, and you’re constantly forced to complain to your friends about the shit you stumble over every day. And that shit, I might add, is usually not even worth the English language you waste on it. However, in your nightmares you’re too busy running down mysterious tunnels with some kind of shapeless evil at your heels to be talking about it. Sometimes it’s a pity, waking up, sweat-drenched, realizing that all that physical activity will have absolutely no effect on your body. All night you’ve been MacGyver – you’ve just barely escaped death about thirty times in two hours – and yet here you are at 4am in your sheets with nothing to show for.

October 21, 2005


I Dont Sleep


Just a lot of jumping from dream to dream without introductions or epilogues. Long corridors of schools rolling out into the distance, in true Alice in Wonderland style. Being late for math classes. Teachers that I never knew, shaking their fingers at me. Chalkboards, grades and detention.And then the shower starts up in the bathroom. The early-rising roommate. Math classes evaporate and I’m in charge of my own destiny again – just like that. Time to turn around and try sleeping without dreams.

Back in real life, it’s that time of the month again. Not that one. The one where you sit down and brainstorm about rent. You think it’s the 31st, and judging you have another whole day, you decide not to worry too much about it. Then, that afternoon, you of course realize it’s the first. But at that point you’re fucked anyway, so why start worrying? It’s amazing, how stress-free you can live, dangling at the end of the food-chain. How easy it is to keep yourself well clothed without money. How easy to be hungry without being pregnant, happy and sad without causes, and industrial without a clue of what you’re doing.

Sep 7, 2005




Everything that is so painstakingly important in other places seems to brake there, and you’re left more or less with just yourself. And although you might feel slightly naked for the first few hours or days, wanting to know where to put your hands, what to worry about, whom to exchange arrogant glances with, you can’t really help but feel some kind of massive, benevolent relief.

June 12, 2005


Chapter Two


It’s too easy to look back and point your finger. I could do that any time of any day and I could make it sound very slick and pretty. But lately, I’m finding cynicism a little too easy to master. It gets boring. Doesn’t take much to get out the stainless steel machete and cut something apart.

There’s no need to applaud yourself after you’ve been witty in tearing something down– we can all do that. There’s more of a challenge in being a hopeless romantic. An idealist. To be able to smile slowly so that you can feel the sugar in the corners of your lips. I’m finding myself past my teenage years. The acidity is draining out somewhere.

Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’m starting to want babies and settle down on a farm or something. But I don’t feel any older than maybe four. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t want the farm, because I do want the farm.

Anyway, I’m possibly derailing from the subject right now. What this all boils down to, as far as I can figure it out, is I think I just don’t have the adolescent middle finger anymore. It’s too goddamn easy at this point to be an asshole, and it has been revealed as nothing more than a mediocre way of making the time go by. It’s more enticing to make shit creek an ideal. Don’t you think?

P.S. That doesn’t mean I can’t ever pick up that machete again, when circumstance begs for it.

December 10, 2004


I Can Tell You


…Sometimes it seems easier to take a spoon and dig out the heart of a live moose than confronting an empty page and having to fill it up with words. But then again, I guess sometimes it’s a whole lot easier filling up an empty page than digging out the heart of a live moose with a spoon.

May 8, 2004


Fernando Pessoa


Fernando Pessoa makes the word “ineffable” completely useless. He can describe everything that the best of the best couldn’t lay a word down for. I’ve had thoughts before that were restricted to thoughts simply because of the intangible qualities that constituted it. But when I open Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, there’ll usually be a paragraph that lays that private thought out just about as clear as any reflection you’ve ever seen in a freshly cut mirror. It’s kind of shocking how perfectly insane his craftsmanship of human words are. And that’s always the trouble with translated work – you’re left with the unsettling thought that there is an even more perfect expression of what you just read, and the only way you can get to it, is of course, to learn an alien language.

January 17, 2004




It’s funny being told one day that your heartbeat goes double as fast as it apparently should. It’s such an abstract piece of information. I don’t even think about my heart – let alone ever lend a thought to the speed of its pumping – and suddenly, I’m in possession of this bizarre fact. 120 beats per minute. I guess it’s cute to know. However, there’s usually a downside to interesting physical abnormalities, and in this case it is that I’m forced to survive off of herbal and fruit teas. I doubt there’s anything quite as sad as wishing one could take that English Breakfast teabag out of the cupboard and pour hot water and milk over it. Problems grow such strange proportions if you only let them.

December 30, 2003