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28.8.04

Landscapes by Gottfried Helnwein

Cristin Leach, in a lengthy article (Gottfried Helnwein - a long way to Tipperary, August 15) for The Times (London), reviews the Irish and Other Landscapes show by photo-realist painter Gottfried Helnwein at the Crawford Art Gallery (Cork, Ireland) until September 4:

The sun is never physically present in Gottfried Helnwein's landscapes [images here and here], but its effect on the land is everywhere to be seen. His panoramic views, of nature at its majestic best, fill entire walls at the Crawford, ranging from 9ft to 21ft in length. Bereft of human figures, the paintings are nonetheless fraught with tension, drama and a painterly skill so realist they look like photographs. Indeed some of them are, in places.

Helnwein is no stranger to controversy but while debate has usually focused on his subject matter rather than his technique, this time round the question on everyone's lips is: how did he do it? How has he created photo-realist landscapes of such magnificent scale? The answer is that he uses digital photographs as the starting point, manipulating and magnifying them into a montage, which he then prints onto the canvas before he paints. This flawless melding of old-master skills with modern reproduction techniques has resulted in a series of highly seductive, ambitiously large landscape works. Debate among visitors to the Crawford has been fuelled by the gallery's labelling of works as "oil and acrylic on canvas" when they would be more properly described as mixed media on canvas. This misleading captioning aside, it is easy to see why the question of technique is foremost in viewers' minds.
The Landscape 1 (Nire Valley, Ireland), from 2001, measures 60 cm (2 feet tall) by 299 cm (9.8 feet long). Just looking at an online image of Irish Landscape III (Nire Valley), from 2003, is enough to blow my mind.

Helnwein has his first individual show, The Child: Works by Gottfried Helnwein, at the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco, open right now, until November 28, but it's not the landscapes of the Cork show, but the often Nazi-related imagery also found in his work. (That show was blogged beautifully, with pictures, by Anna L. Conti in her Working Artist's Journal, on August 25: "After all the build-up and warnings about the darkness of his work, I was surprised at the beauty and humor I found there.") Helnwein was born in Vienna in 1948 and now lives in County Tipperary, in Ireland, and Los Angeles.

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