Mouse I, by Gottfried Helnwein, Mixed media on canvas.
The Art of Gottfried Helnwein and the Comic Culture
November 2000, issue 11
"The Darker Side of Playland:
Childhood Imagery from the Logan Collection"
In 'The Darker Side of Playland', the endearing cuteness of beloved toys and cartoon characters turns menacing and monstrous. Much of the work has the quality of childhood nightmares. In those dreams, long before any adult understanding of the specific pains and evils that live holds, the familiar and comforting objects and images of a child's world are rent with something untoward. For children, not understanding what really to be afraid of, these dreams portend some pain and disturbance lurking into the landscape. Perhaps nothing in the exhibition exemplifies this better than Gottfried Helnwein's 'Mickey'. His portrait of Disney's favorite mouse occupies an entire wall of the gallery; rendered from an oblique angle, his jaunty, ingenuous visage looks somehow sneaky and suspicious. His broad smile, encasing a row of gleaming teeth, seems more a snarl or leer. This is Mickey as Mr. Hyde, his hidden other self now disturbingly revealed. Helnwein's Mickey is painted in shades of gray, as if pictured on an old black-and-white TV set. We are meant to be transported to the flickering edges of our own childhood memories in a time imaginably more blameless, crime-less and guiltless.
But Mickey's terrifying demeanor hints of things to come. ...
Gottfried Helnwein at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2000
...Works in the exhibition present the dark side of cartoon characters. The prevailing narrative structure of many cartoons is a cycle of one's character's unrelenting attacks on another. Yet the violence of these scenarios is subverted and humor achieved by the lack of any permanent injury to the victim and the gleeful nonchalance of the adversary even during the most aggressive assault. Static representations of wounded or menacing cartoon characters can expose the violence and eliminate the humorous punch line.
In Machine Gunned Minnie (plate 21), Joyce Pensato inflicts physical damage on the image of Minnie Mouse by shooting the paper with bullets. But Minnie is not as resilient as her exuberant gesture would indicate her charcoal outline seems to fade into the gray background, as if she were slowly disappearing. Furthermore, as works on paper, it has an inherently ephemeral existence. But even Porky Pig, painted in the more durable medium of enamel on canvas (plate 22), is merely a ghostly black silhouette dripping down the white background, as if it were melting or bleeding.
William Cotton's painting Mortimer (plate 23), is more psychologically than viscerally disturbing. This painting is part of a group of works Cotton did based on things he found at flea markets. The artist's working title for Mortimer was Ugly Mouse, a description of the stuffed animal dominating the composition. With its missing eye, tattered für, and pants fallen down, the enlarged Mouse has a haunting presence. The final title refers to the figure in the lower left, Mortimer Snerd, the dummy made famous in the 1940s by the ventriloqist-comedian Edgar Bergen. An inanimate figure equipped with a human voice and gestures can be frightening or eerie. Adding an autobiographical note, the artist inserted the hoola hoop that appears at the lower right as a memory of a childhood nightmare.
Mice are ubiquitous in child imagery, perhaps because of the commercial success and global popularity of Mickey Mouse or perhaps because of their disproportionate physical features. The Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has developed his own cartoon character alter ego that looks like a mouse. Known as Mr. DOB, the figure vaguely resembles a pygmy doll that the artist once saw in a toy store, but more recognizably his enlarge black ears, white face, and gloved paws make him look like a cousin of Mickey Mouse. However, representations of DOB spell out his name across his head the D and B are written on his ears, and the circle of his face inserts an O in between so as not to confuse this character with the more famous rodent.
Excerpt from the cataglogue by Heather Whitmore Jain, Curatorial Associate "The Darker Side of Playland" Childhood Imagery from the Logan Collection SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART September 1st - January 2nd, 2001
museums-tour starting at the Pittsburg Museum of Art
31. January 2003
Tribune-Review art critic
Artists explore the Development of the Cartoon Character and its Impact on Society
Gottfried Helnwein's "American Prayer" is a large hyper-realistic painting of a boy kneeling in bedtime prayer to a large and looming Donald Duck. Clark says: "In many ways, this is the signature piece for this whole show, because it shows how cartoon imagery has entered our culture, our world, our daily life."
Although cartoons and caricatures have played an important role in Western culture since the Middle Ages, the development of the comic strip and comic books are a unique American phenomenon and has contributed significantly to American visual culture.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Heather Whitmore Jain
Curatorial Associate, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The Darker Side of Playland, Childhood Imagery from the Logan Collection
30. May 2003
Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein's huge photorealist painting of a Pinocchio-like half boy/half puppet praying to a levitating vision of Donald Duck is is fabulous -- Durer meets Disney.
American Prayer, by Gottfried Helnwein, Mixed Media on Canvas.
In Gottfried Helnwein's painting Mickey, Mickey Mouse's physical features, which usually contribute to his appeal become a thin veneer of looming attack. Blown up to a monster scale and rendered in an austere gray palette, Mickey's smile is deceptive.