In her first solo exhibition in New York City, Los Angeles-based emerging artist Mercedes Helnwein introduces a series of intricate black and color pencil drawings on paper.
Helnwein began her artistic career as a writer and has published a number of short stories in various magazines and literary journals. After moving to Los Angeles in 2000 and completing her first novel, Helnwein took a break from writing to re-immerse herself in the visual arts.
Helnwein’s literary credentials and penchant for storytelling are manifest in her drawings. She states, “I like to create scenes in my work that are subtly off—that make the viewer rummage around in his or her dreams and nightmares for answers.”
The scenes to which she refers are reminiscent of cinematic stills. The photographic fly-on-the-wall objective perspective affords the viewer a fleeting, intrinsically edgy moment with the protagonist(s), and a petrified window of intimacy on the brewing turmoil and ineluctable drama of an imminent denouement.
According to Helnwein, her work is borne out of a diverse array of inspirations ranging from the Southern Gothic tradition to the cartoons of Robert Crumb, to nineteenth century Russian literature, American motel culture and the Delta blues.
The product of such a grand and eclectic olio of artistic influences is a body of a work that demonstrates an uncanny sense of timeless universality. The somber and theatrical aspects of her precise compositions evoke the languor of a classic pastoral painting, while the artificial lighting and the shadows cast on conspicuously stark backdrops render the drawings undeniably contemporary and raw.
Tennessee Williams described the essence of the Southern Gothic literary paradigm as “an intuition of an underlying dreadfulness in modern experience.” In this somewhat macabre convention Helnwein’s drawings resonate with a compelling sense of latent dread that only serves to amplify the haunting beauty and arresting tension inherent in her work’s narrative.