The artist explores living room noir and the dangers of normality.
Mercedes Helnwein: The Trouble With DreamsMerry Karnowsky Gallery (170 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA) Map it Free
As is her custom, Helnwein uses bygone decades and the Southern and Midwestern states for inspiration. But with this series she explored more specifically the realm of domestic mysteries, the underbellies of small towns, living room noir, and the dangers of normality. Helnwein attacks her stories from various angles and with a number of different media. The portraits of young women are in her trademark thick black pencil -- facing the viewer without the distraction of much background, their expressions carrying unsettling hints of an unspoken narrative. The watercolors in contrast are delicate in their pale, fragile color schemes. These women and girls are portrayed in soft turquoise, pinks and flesh tones with an almost see-through quality that is only disturbed by the occasional explosion of bright magenta or orange leaking from their faces or dripping from their hair. And lastly, there are the large-scale oil-pastel scenes, based on discarded personal photographs from flea-markets sales. These are rendered in monochromatic grey, green and earthy tones with rare accents in red or pink. There’s a Southern gothic feel to these pastels: empty street scenes and forgotten family photographs impart a feeling of ghostliness, an immateriality that only otherwise exists in memories. They expose the vastness of country and that unique American loneliness possibly only because of its size. Despite the variety of styles and mediums, all Helnwein’s works are united by their obscured or skewed perspectives – leaving the viewer in the dark about what exactly is occurring or why. “I always like the idea of finding a ‘twilight zone’ in really mundane circumstances or scenes, in a living room where everything apparently seems normal, with its wallpapers and patterned curtains, its claustrophobic nick-nacks and portraits of family members – I can’t help thinking that this is a fake front to a far more interesting underbelly,” she says. There are only ever clues to the underlying truths in these stories. Helnwein suggests there is no one central agency in the universe her work depicts. It seems instead that her subjects, ranging from teenagers to nurses and cops in vintage uniforms, are under the influence of supernatural agencies or perhaps simply impulses that are as dark as they are familiar.