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Every Rose Has Its Thorn

"I actually like Poison" says the diminutive tattoo artist from her home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“I actually like Poison” says the diminutive tattoo artist from her home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “About two years ago my husband and I were sitting around talking about all the old glam and metal shows we used to go see together and that’s when I decided on my next series of paintings.” Within minutes they had packed the car and were headed across the country buying tickets to every metal show they could see. The next three months begot 12 000 miles and $15 000 of sleeping in cheap hotels, arguing with managers, taking candid pictures and, eventually, hanging out with Poison. “After seeing us at a bunch of shows (drummer) Rikki Rocket gave us all-access backstage passes just because he had gotten so used to seeing us. That was where we got the really good stuff.” Before the all-access pass Helen had been forcibly removed from several Iron maiden concerts and a few Mötley Crüe ones. Iron Maiden fans are too D&D/ Rush, and Crüe aren’t as libidinous as they used to be, so Poison was the perfect resting place for her study. “It was insane touring with these people,” she says, “literally insane. It’s all testosterone and everyone using each other and no sleep and bad food. I was in tears at one point just from the sheer insanity of it.” After every show David and Helen would go backstage, meet the fans and photograph them. Her husband David Yellen, whose job was usually just to help her get clear, well-lit portraits for her paintings, ended up having a show of his own while Helen spent almost a year manipulating oils and glaze and oils and glaze and more oils and more glaze into traditional, figurative paintings of these uniquely trashy pieces of white trash. Finely-tuned airbrush-like works of art that pay homage to the least homageable people you know. Unfortunately, Yellen’s photos became much more popular with the NYC in-crowd than Helen’s paintings, which meant her figurative oils were often interpreted as a tribute to her assistant’s photos. This mix-up may have lead to her and David going from married to “just friends” but Helen doesn’t want to get into it. “I just don’t like people seeing the pictures I use for my paintings. It’s like removing the curtain from the Wizard of Oz, you know? What happened with David and I is nobody’s business and that’s all I’m going to say.” Then she rapidly changes the subject back to groupie culture. “It was a bit sad,” Helen says of the fans that made her job so bizarre. “They’re not all crazy sluts. Nor are Poison. The shows are just a license for both groups of people to go totally insane and get away from an otherwise pretty uneventful life. Even Nurse Karen looks pretty normal when she’s at home, playing with her four kids.” That sounded profound, but I was still thinking about the photo thing.