In 1969 Gottfried Helnwein began his studies at the "Akademie der Bildenden Künste" in Vienna. He became a student in the master classes of the "Magic Realist" Rudolf Hausner and was awarded the master class prize in 1970. This was followed by the Kardinal König Prize (1971) and the Theodor Körner Prize (1974). The typical technical brilliance of Hausner strongly influenced Gottfried Helnwein's work. As a result, already in his student days the first hyper-realistic paintings of wounded and tortured children arose.
Helnwein's actions and exhibitions evoked repeated storms of rejection. One exhibition even had to be cancelled due to violent protests - facts that were reminiscent of the lack of understanding encountered by painters such as Schiele or Munch during their lifetimes.
By the end of the 1970s Gottfried Helnwein increasingly began to analyse figures from popular culture. His avowed model was Walt Disney. At the same time the first drafts of posters, record covers and magazines were made (et al. Spiegel, Stern, Time, Lui, Playboy). These commissioned works for the mass media began to occupy an ever-greater amount of space in his work and were very important to him, as he was able to address a broader public, reaching out beyond the world of art business.
Gottfried Helnwein became one of the most sought-after international illustrators. In 1982 he turned down an offer for a teaching post at the "Fachhochschule für Gestaltung" in Hamburg. He moved to Germany in 1985 and began to combine large format photos with abstract gestic painting. Since 1997 Gottfried Helnwein lives and works in Ireland.
In 2004 the one-man show "Helnwein - The Child" took place at the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco and in 2005 a retrospective at the Chinese National Museum of Arts and at the Forbidden City in Beijing.