Talking to Mercedes Helnwein

Question: Tell me about “Whistling past the graveyard”

“Whistling Past the Graveyard” is an American idiom, and means pretty much just that:  whistling while walking past a graveyard.  Faking a cheerful front.  Trying to smother some fear.

Screen shot 2009-11-07 at 12.23.51 AM
For some reason this idiom made sense in relation to my new body of work.  It just seemed to fit.  Judging by their expressions I’d say there’s probably something the girls in these drawings would rather not talk about – something they’d prefer to sit on.  And they’re keeping it in, but it’s kind of leaking out of their faces.
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I don’t know what that something is, since I can’t read their minds.  These girls take on their own life as soon as I start to put them down on paper and they stare back at me.  They don’t really feel that they owe me any explanations.
Screen shot 2009-11-06 at 11.36.41 PM

In any case, I realize there’s a lot of toys going on in this series and with that comes a sense of something innocent, frivolous and child-like.  I do think there is something innocent there, but as I said, I still have a hunch that the general train of thoughts in the girls’ heads are going in the opposite direction.
Screen shot 2009-11-07 at 12.20.13 AM
When I start a drawing I don’t go about it intellectually.  That is to say, I don’t sit down and wonder, “Well, first of all what am I trying to say with this?  What is my message?”  I don’t map anything out with a pie chart. Fine art is far too visual a process to include much rational thought (and maybe I speak for myself here).  In fact, sometimes I feel it’s beyond visual – like some organic process in a phantom organ behind my liver.
Screen shot 2009-11-06 at 11.43.25 PM
So I can guess at what’s happening in these drawings, just like anybody else, and if you’re interested in my personal guess I can expound on it.  But it’s just a guess.  I’m less interested in narrating and more interested in presenting an image that will crank up other people’s imagination and hopefully send it somewhere really weird.  And the titles I attach should only expedite that.

I hope that helps scratch the itch.


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