There is a basic misconception that any given face, at any given time, looks more or less the same, like a statue's face.
Actually, the human face is as variable from moment to moment as a screen on which images are reflected, from within and from without. I have seen six pictures of the same subject taken in less than a minute - so different one from the other, as not to be recognizable as the same person.
Gottfried Helnwein's paintings and photographs attack this misconception, showing the variety of faces of which any face is capable. And in order to attack the basic misconception, he must underline and exaggerate by distortion, by bandages and metal instruments that force the face into impossible molds.
Images of torture and madness abound, as happens from moment to moment in the face seen as a sensitive reflection of extreme perceptions and experience.
How can a self-portrait depict statuesque calm in the face of the horrors that surround us all? The torture, disease, fear and hatred that has come to be the daily fare of what the Pope calls "the banquet of life".
These tortured faces all say: "This is what I mean... and this... and this... Look, and you will see."
You can't show anyone anything he hasn't seen already, on some level - anymore than you can tell anyone anything he doesn't already know.
It is the function of the artist to evoke the experience of surprised recognition: to show the viewer what he knows but does not know that he knows.
Helnwein is a master of surprised recognition.
original manuscript 1990
the essay about Helnwein
by William S. Burroughs
William Burroughs 1990
Musee' de l' Elysee, Lausanne
"Helnwein Faces", 1992 Edition Stemmle. ISBN 3-7231-0447-9 (catalogue), 3-7231-0427-4 (book)
Gottfried Helnwein, HELNWEIN FACES
1992 Helnwein Faces, Edition Stemmle William S. Burroughs