“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 Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein.
She moved to Ireland with her family in her teens, where she spent her time writing and drawing. Consciously choosing not to attend art schools, Helnwein developed a distinct visual style that remained fully untouched by outside opinions, peers or fads. Instead she drew her inspiration from personal influences, ranging from Southern Gothic traditions to the cartoons of Robert Crumb, nineteenth Century Russian literature, American motel culture and the Delta blues, amongst others.
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 supporters such as Land Rover, these shows generated a surprisingly genuine response and enabled Helnwein to continue developing her ideas, styles and experimenting with her interests and themes. She exhibited regularly in Los Angeles during this period at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery, as well as in Europe, steadily garnering interest and collectors, amongst them Damien Hirst, who bought out a London show.
With her series "Asleep in the Wind" Helnwein broke from the primarily pencil-focused style of her early work, moving onto large-scale formats and experimenting with oil pastel as a medium. In 2015 she further developed her work in this direction with "Living Room Fire", expanding into a wider range of media and delving deeper into the theme of American living rooms and the "almost normal" activities of its characters.
Film and photography has also long been an integral part of Helnwein's work, whether behind the scenes as reference material or in the forefront with films for her exhibitions, such as the "Cops and Nurses" film in 2013. Her brother, composer Ali Helnwein, often collaborates with her on these projects.
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”. Her second novel is in the process of being edited.
Mercedes Helnwein currently lives and works in downtown Los Angeles and Ireland