THE IRISH TIMES - "Pieces of Me"

Thank you so much to Deirdre McQuillan at the Irish Times for this lovely piece about our home.

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At home in an Irish castle

with Kojii Helnwein

The model turned actor on her favourite things: a bedside table and her beloved motorcycle


Deirdre McQuillan

Actress, singer and songwriter Kojii Helnwein was born and raised in Tallaght but now lives in a castle in Tipperary with her fine art photographer husband, Cyril Helnwein and their three children. The daughter of Enda Wyatt, co-founder of Irish rock band An Emotional Fish, she has had a lifelong affair with music and the arts. Having studied technical stage and production, she worked as a freelance stage manager in Irish theatres for four years, then briefly with a circus in Paris before moving to Los Angeles and beginning a career in modelling and acting. She has walked for designers such as Jimmy Choo and Prada, appeared in countless magazines including VogueCosmopolitanElle and Marie Claire and on TV on Project Runway and Models of the Runway. She and Cyril are hosting a charity motorcycle run [The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride] in Tipperary for Movember tomorrow, Sunday, September 24th.

Describe your interiors style:

KH: Living in a castle from the 1800s it is kind of hard to do anything modern here, so everything is very vintage, bohemian, simple and organic. Textures and lighting are very important for me and I love natural fabrics like linen and fresh cotton. I like to bring the outside in, so there are a lot of wooden floors, cabinets and counter-tops. I don’t like anything plastic. Moroccan interiors are my ideal style and I love Dar Sol, the Irish store founded by Daniel Holfeld, the photographer who has sourced wonderful handmade items from Morocco.

What room do you most enjoy?

KH: It used to be the kitchen, but now it is our new little guest room which we call the "Tree House". It is actually an attic room that was renovated: it’s a little triangular room at the top of the house with only a bed, a Moroccan carpet and a shelf with a lot of art books and vintage cameras. It gets all the daylight and is the only room in the house where people don’t go looking for me. I have three kids so it is a nice place to meditate or play my guitar and no one ever finds me there so it is lovely.

What items do you love most?

KH: I love the bath shelf that my husband Cyril made for me – he is very handy with woodwork – from reclaimed wood from our property. It holds a wine glass, a book or an iPad. My Royal Enfield Classic 500 [motorcycle] is my pride and joy; I bought it in Adare in Limerick last March. [Royal Enfield Ireland]. Other items would be a hand-carved closet which came with the castle with beautiful leaves and creatures – it is stunning. And a bedside table that my 11-year-old daughter made from tree trunks and twine. It is so natural, beautiful and simple.

Who are your favourite designers?

KH: I am not interested in current designers mainly because modern furniture design doesn’t fit into the house, so I go to flea markets, auction houses, thrift and vintage stores. I search for things that have an older style of craftsmanship. And most of my clothing is vintage too.

What artists do you admire?

KH: I am fortunate to be surrounded by artists, so obviously my husband is my favourite artist especially his latest series of Polaroid prints called Lost Garden. He shot it in our own arboretum and made all the frames from reclaimed wood. My father-in-law’s hyper realism [the Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein] floors me – he can capture the essence of a person so well. I also admire the London-based New Zealand artist Justin Russell. He was based in Dublin for many years as a tattoo artist and tattooed my husband, he is another hyper realist, super-talented with a great depth to his art.

Biggest interior turn off?

KH: Low ceilings, clutter, shiny modern surfaces, bad lighting, black shiny 1980s-style kitchens, black leather couches and lino.

Destination that stands out?

KH: Joshua Tree, out in the desert. It was the first place we went to after my daughter was born – she was born at home in our loft in Los Angeles and was just three days-old when we left. My family had been over from Ireland for the birth which was five days before Christmas. DTLA is high rise, smog, noise and dirt and we wanted to get out of it into wide open spaces. My dad had shot a music video in Joshua Tree and suggested the idea, so we rented a huge Ford Expedition and shot off.

If you had €100,000 to spend on anything for the home, what would that be?

KH: Oh my God, living in a house that is constantly under restoration, I would renovate an attic space above our wing so we would have extra bright spaces. If there was anything left, I would build a small climate-controlled shed for the motorcycles.,

all photos ©Kojii Helnwein 2017

Kingswood's Kojii...

Kingswood's Kojii Helnwein - star of the screen and stage

By Aideen O'Flaherty

From working as a stage manager in theatres throughout Ireland to securing lucrative modelling contracts and being the frontwoman of her eponymous band, Kojii Helnwein has always been passionate about working in the creative industries.

Growing up in Kingswood in Tallaght, Kojii was always surrounded by music as a result of her father Enda Wyatt songwriting and playing bass in the rock band An Emotional Fish, but now Kojii indulges in a variety of creative pursuits: acting, modelling, making music and photography are just some of her talents.

Married to the artist Cyril Helnwein, Kojii lives in a castle in Tipperary with their three children and divides her time between Los Angeles and Ireland.

Your dad is a musician, so music has always been around you from a young age. Was there a particular moment when you realised you wanted to be a musician too?

I don't recall any one moment, music was like language in our house when I was a kid. In primary school I’d come home to find my Dad in his home studio recording music. He'd stand me up in front of the microphone and let me sing whatever came into my mind.

There are countless tapes of 4-year-old me rambling on about clouds and dragons. I do recall being incredibly impressed by the work that went into being a musician.

The constant practice, the writing, rehearsals, the recording, it all fascinated me. I loved shadowing my Dad when he worked, I would hang out at the Factory Studios back in the day and listen to U2 jam in one rehearsal room and my dad in another.

I was hooked the first time I saw the band on stage and saw thousands of people singing along to songs that I saw the band write. The energy from that crowd was electrifying and I was hooked!

You worked as a stage manager in theatres and also a Parisian circus before you started modelling, what was that experience like?

I enjoyed working in theatre. I studied technical stage training in Tallaght and fell straight into working freelance. I was very lucky and worked non-stop for years in some great venues around Ireland.

I had the pleasure of working on opera festivals in the Gaiety, I toured with Des Bishop on a rap musical, worked the Cat Laughs Comedy festival and so much more.

It was a wild and creative ride but the hours were long, the pay was low and the work was hard. I worked 18-20 hour days and I was on the road a lot.

When I discovered modelling paid more than a week’s wage in just one day I was happy to leave the stage management behind.

How did your work as a stage manager lead into your career in modelling?

Through my work at the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival one year I met the best friend of a famous American comedian and we started dating.

I moved to LA with him and everyone we met assumed I was a model, they were shocked to learn that I wore a tool belt and combats to work instead.

When I returned to Ireland after a few months, I discovered someone had mailed my photos to a top modelling agency in Dublin. I still have no clue who sent them in.

I was home from LA for only a few hours when the agency called to set up a meeting. The next day I was on the runway for John Rocha and was booked solid for the following year thanks to everyone I met at that show.

You've starred in loads of TV commercials and even appeared on Project Runway, what is it like to see yourself on TV?

I don't enjoy seeing myself on TV. I am super critical of my work and see nothing but the points I need to work on.

However, there have been those rare moments where I see a character in a film and realise “Oh wait! That's me! Completely immersed in character.”

Those are the moments I live for. Commercials are fun and easy to shoot though. Just yesterday my daughter jumped up in the cinema during the previews and announced “Mom!!That's you!,” I sank into my seat in mortification but I was also elated to see how proud my little girl is of me.

As for Project Runway, I have yet to see a single episode. I had never seen the show before I took the job and quickly realised that it's not my cup of tea.


More recently you've been doing some acting work, how does this compare to being on stage as a musician?

It's a totally different rush. There's an immediate connection with the audience when I'm on stage with my band so I know if we’re doing a good job or not.

I’ve also been making music a lot longer than I’ve been acting so I’m more comfortable with winging it when the crowd want something different.

With film, I have to trust myself and work hard to nail it. It's more challenging to be someone else and delve into their world.

You recently displayed some of your photography at an exhibition for photographers in Tipperary, are there any plans to have a full solo exhibition of your work?

That was a fun show, it was a group exhibit that showcased work from artists based in Tipperary. Photography is more of a hobby for me.

I love film photography and old cameras so when I have some of that rare free time I’ll sneak away with one of my cameras.

The work I recently showed was from a series called ‘Ophelia’ that I photographed while I was working on the role of Ophelia in a feature film of Hamlet.

I used the series to help me capture what the character was going through and to process the role. I never expected to exhibit these photos but the support from my family was the push I needed.

There's talk of a solo show in Dublin next year but no date set in stone yet.

You divide your time between Ireland and LA, what do you think are the biggest differences in pursuing creative work in the US and here?

There are many differences between the work here and in LA, namely the volume and scale of work plus the money. There is so much work out there.

In LA a company might spend millions of dollars shooting a commercial only to shelve the end product and never air it. The work in Ireland may be of a much smaller scale but the quality and creativity in here is stellar.

We have amazing filmmakers here who are pushing some serious boundaries.

You're married to the artist Cyril Helnwein, do you get to collaborate with each other much when working or do you prefer to work separately?

Cyril and I met through our work when I modelled for his ‘Ethereal’ series and I've posed for him a few times since then, but these days we work separately. In saying that, we’re very supportive of each other and always help out as much as possible.

If you had to pick one career out of acting, modelling, writing music and photography, which one would you pick and why?

Acting. It's the one job I have that will eventually allow me to partake in all my interests. In one role I might be a musician, another a photographer, another role I might be a homely mother.

It’s also the most challenging, it forces you to really study people and what drives us.

The process of developing a character is incredible and can open you up to ways of thinking that you may never consider when you're living everyday life as yourself.

I’ve always been pretty empathic and have the ability to see life from the perspective of others, to be able to channel that for work is phenomenal.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in the creative industries?

Be prepared for the business side of art, it’s not all creative. There are taxes, contracts and all sorts of administrative issues that you need to be prepared to handle yourself.

Hire someone you trust to do it, but always be sure you understand what they do for you. I see too many artists scraping the poverty line because they let the business swallow them whole.

Lastly, what is it really like to live in a castle?

It's a magical life. Our kids are living the dream - they have gardens, forest, animals, culture, history and art in their daily lives.

They climb trees, run free with their dogs and imagine amazing adventures with dragons and fairies.

I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful to have this life, it's a far cry from where I came from. As magical as it is though, I'm a city girl.

It took a long time for me to get used to life in the countryside and the slower pace. A castle is a lot of work though, an old building like that requires a lot of upkeep and you can't just run to IKEA for a quick fix.

Sometimes random tourists wander into the garden as they think it's a public place. I often joke that we should charge them €20 and hand them a sweeping brush, a mop and some furniture polish so they can take the ‘Real Life in a Castle’ tour!

You can find out more about Kojii at, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @kojiihelnwein.

"The Helnwein's will see you now" in The New York Times

By NICHOLAS HARAMIS Photographs by Kenneth O'Halloran

They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky. Meet the Helnweins.

February rains flooded the gravel road to Gurteen Castle, a 40-room fortress built in 1866 for Pope Pius IX’s chamberlain. Throughout the Republic of Ireland, stories about power outages dominated the evening news, but the Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein and his wife, Renate, their four children and three of their grandchildren were oblivious to the storm. Gottfried, in a skull-print bandanna and black sunglasses, spoke about the spirit of a jealous woman who tormented the burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese on her wedding day (she married Gottfried’s friend Marilyn Manson there in 2005 in a ceremony officiated by the surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky). Von Teese was nearly ready to walk down the aisle when the ceiling above her vanity came crashing down, narrowly missing her and her maid of honor.

The New York Times Magazine 2014, International Edition, Holiday

February rains flooded the gravel road to Gurteen Castle, a 40-room fortress built in 1866 for Pope Pius IX’s chamberlain. Throughout the Republic of Ireland, stories about power outages dominated the evening news, but the Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein and his wife, Renate, their four children and three of their grandchildren were oblivious to the storm. In the castle’s dining room, under the flickering glow of candlelight, they were singing along to a spirited rendition of “Nell Flaherty’s Drake,” a bouncy 19th-century Irish folk song that had them merrily rhyming “astray” and “gray.” Although most of the Helnweins were born in Germany or Austria, they’ve come to think of Kilsheelan, a town of roughly 500 people in County Tipperary, as home. Renate is a regular presence in town — as familiar as the local police officer, whose house doubles as the police station, and the weary gravedigger, who lives in a home without running water — while Gottfried, when he’s not singing about ducks, tends to roughly 30 of them in his backyard.

The animals are, for him, more than pets. As a young boy growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust, one in particular gave him hope. “Donald Duck was a cultural atomic bomb for my generation,” he said. “In America, this complete loser had to compete with superheroes, but us Nazi kids could identify much better with Donald. He was very important to me. He actually saved my life.”

Gottfried, who was born in 1948, left Vienna nearly three decades ago, and yet the city’s battle-scarred history is still as much a character as the otherworldly children, Nazi officers and burn victims depicted in his photographs and paintings. Raised by severe Roman Catholic parents, he has described his upbringing as “oppressive,” “dark” and “colorless.” At 18, he moved away from home and into a rented attic where he began his lifelong investigation into “the idea of purity interrupted, destroyed, harmed, raped.” He studied at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts — the same school that turned away a young Adolf Hitler — where he once set off paint bombs on campus that he and his friends made by attaching paint shells to fireworks.

In his 20s, Gottfried immersed himself in coffeehouse culture, experimented with drugs (a particularly bad LSD trip “took years of absolute, never-ending fear to get over”) and watched as the death of Nazism gave way to Maoism and the revival of Trotskyism and Spartacism. Like the Viennese Actionists of the 1960s, he’d slice his arms with surgical knives in the name of performance. One of his first exhibitions, at the city’s Gallery of the House of the Press in 1972, caused such outrage among the journalists who worked in the building that the gallerist shut it down after just three days. His art has since been confiscated by police, labeled with “entartete Kunst” stickers (German for “degenerate art,” the term used by Nazis to describe most examples of modernism) and destroyed by protesters. “Everybody hated me, which I liked,” he said. “As an outcast, you have nothing to lose.”

From left: Gottfried in his studio; his "Epiphany I (Adoration of the Magi)," 1996, reinterprets the nativity scene with Waffen-SS officers admiring Adolf Hitler as a baby

Renate first became aware of her husband while working as a nurse at a German asylum in the 1970s. A local paper had written about a show of his and published a photo of one of his bandaged-child paintings. She was reminded of the treatments, what she described as the “horrors,” she’d seen conducted in the hospital — “really bad, really invasive stuff. Finally, I thought, someone gets it.” She hitchhiked to Vienna, found Gottfried, and they’ve been together ever since. In 1985, they moved to Germany, and then, about a decade later, decamped to Ireland.

While Calvin, a family friend with a ponytail and a stutter, passed around plates of pasta and garlic bread, Renate shared stories about the castle’s many hauntings. Gottfried, in a skull-print bandanna and black sunglasses, spoke about the spirit of a jealous woman who tormented the burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese on her wedding day (she married Gottfried’s friend Marilyn Manson there in 2005 in a ceremony officiated by the surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky). Von Teese was nearly ready to walk down the aisle when the ceiling above her vanity came crashing down, narrowly missing her and her maid of honor. “That should have been a sign,” Gottfried scoffed. Others gleefully recalled doors unexpectedly swinging open and phantom arms grasping at their legs.

The Helnweins know how similar they are to the fictional Addams Family, and they seem happy to indulge the comparison. ” ‘Weird’ is the best way to describe things that I like,” said Gottfried’s daughter, Mercedes. “Weird and desolate.” Her father, meanwhile, often smiled while saying things like, “The dark side of humanity is so dark that nobody can really confront it. That’s why Dante came up with nine circles of hell.” The walls of their home are covered with Gottfried’s photographs of Manson, watercolors he painted of his children with metal clamps in their mouths and “Epiphany I (Adoration of the Magi),” an oil painting that reimagines the nativity scene with Adolf Hitler and SS agents. Errant skulls, decapitated dolls and snakes in jars of formaldehyde occupy dark corners.

From left: the neo-Gothic facade of Gurteen Castle, originally built for Count Edmond de la Poer; in front of a French 18th-century tapestry, a marble statue of Dante Alighieri presides over Gottfried’s collection of pharmaceutical and alchemical artifacts 2014, Kenneth O Halloran

All four Helnwein children share their parents’ gothic spirit. The eldest, 37-year-old Cyril, lives in the castle with his model-musician wife and their three children. He assists Gottfried six days a week and is also a photographer in his own right (he met his wife when she posed for his “Ethereal” series). His latest body of work includes crass visual puns such as “Feelin’ Horny,” which features a nude model with antlers mounted on the wall behind her head. Mercedes, a 35-year-old writer, painter and filmmaker with red hair and the palest skin, now lives in Los Angeles, where she makes darkly sexy oil pastels from photographs she buys online. Ali, 32, is a violinist and Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer who also lives in L.A., where he has founded a chamber orchestra and scores independent films. The youngest, 27-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus (who goes by his middle name), writes sparse prose inspired by Elizabeth Bishop, Raymond Chandler and Sylvia Plath.

“We’re not the Kardashians or the Hiltons,” said Cyril, who recalls being bandaged, his face smeared with fake blood, while modeling for his father. “But for me, it was an everyday thing. Kids play dress-up. This was just a different kind.” Mercedes added drily, “We’ve never been particularly cheerful.” Despite having spent time in the company of Gottfried’s famous friends and collaborators — including Muhammad Ali, Keith Haring, Michael Jackson, Sean Penn, Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski (who, after meeting the Helnwein clan, gave them one of his books signed with the words “Thanks for the strange evening”) — they said their lives have felt rather normal. “We just didn’t know any different,” Cyril said. “I think children have this innate artistic ability that’s kind of hammered out of them over time. We never had it hammered out of us.” Today, a new generation of Helnweins are posing for Gottfried and making their own paintings in his light-filled home studio.

Gottfried’s grandchildren aren’t the only ones who seem increasingly comfortable with his work. Last year, he opened his largest retrospective to date at Vienna’s Albertina Museum — a place normally “reserved for Rembrandts,” he said — and, to his surprise, it was among the most successful shows of a living artist ever staged there. He’s now thinking about renting a studio to make art in the city he vowed never to return to. It would be a big move for Gottfried, who has grown quite fond of pastoral Ireland. “It’s my home,” he said. “It’s where I belong.”

After the dinner table had been cleared, Renate suggested we go for a quick drink at Nagles, a roadside bed-and-breakfast about a mile down the road. But Gottfried was tired. “Maybe another night,” he said, before retiring to his room with Renate. Cyril, too, excused himself to put his kids to bed. But Ali, Amadeus and Mercedes had other plans. While Ali and Mercedes finished the song they’d been slowly playing at the piano, Amadeus pulled out three elaborate masks, handmade from cardboard and painted to look like nightmarish creatures with sharp teeth and beady eyes. It was time for a stroll.


The artist Gottfried Helnwein with his wife, Renate, and their four children, from left, Cyril, Wolfgang Amadeus, Ali (sitting) and Mercedes in the library of the 19th-century Gurteen Castle. In the background, a painting from Gottfried’s “The Disasters of War” series 2014, Kenneth O Halloran