Gottfried Helnwein was born in post-war Vienna in 1948. At the age of 18 he decided to make art his profession. Throughout his artistic education (1965 – 1969), he intensified his interest for various forms of trivial art such as comics, film and rock music. His work is significantly inspired by the characters from Walt Disney's Duckburg – especially Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse have fascinated him since childhood and still play a major role in his body of work. While studying at the "Graphische Hochschule" (1965 – 1969), the young artist Helnwein undertook his first performances, cutting his face and hands with razor blades and bandaging the injuries. In his early creative period – within the 1970s – he also made his first photographic self-portraits. By that time the child started to become the focus of his œuvre as he worked with children in photo actions in the street. The child gained more and more significance in Helnwein's art, eventually becoming his central motif. No other artist has ever paid more attention to the figure of the child – creating tension by considering it as a victim but also as an offender.
From the mid-1980ies his photo-realistic paintings have taken an enormous format in size. At the same time dealing with the medium of photography has become indispensable for Gottfried Helnwein's hyper-realistic style. Historical, political and social events, as well as the media and news not only affect but also become visible in his body of work. Helnwein designs his statements on oversized canvases, but also has them printed in newspapers, magazines and on billboards, addressing an audience outside the artistic institutions. Helnwein intends to raise awareness, considering his art as confronting and as a weapon against the disinterest and apathy of people.
Since 1997 the artist works and lives with his family in County Tipperary, Ireland. Gottfried Helnwein also spends several months a year in Downtown Los Angeles, where he set up a Studio in 2002.