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