Interview with Mark Heine Painter the Siren Summoner
There is so much flipping artistic talent in this world. Every day I am falling over new amazing artists, and my curiosity about them and their work is just insatiable. I mean, these guys slave away in a basement, in a studio, with no one there – working 100% on faith in themselves and their vision. I don’t know about you, but damn, that is gutsy stuff. To hold onto this idea that this will eventually come to fruition (and I’m not even talking about commercial success here – I’m just talking about actually pulling off that idea in their head) and that it will be what they want it to be at the end of the day… that is really something.
So today, I’m bringing you a new artist to me – but maybe not to you? Mark Heine. I was initially captivated by his sirens series – but he has many many more paintings than just this series. But it’s his sirens I want to talk about today because they blow my mind. Oh, and I’ve always had a thing for a siren, beckoning to sailors to join them in the depths of the sea. What a gorgeous and evocative myth. Oh, and a frightfully scary one (potentially anyway, and yeah, we’ll get to that in the conversation below) to boot. Anyway, if you are unfamiliar with Mark’s sirens, here are a few so you can see what kind of amazing I’m talking about here.
THinc. – “The biggest curiosity for me is about how life like, and realistic you make each siren. From the billowing clothes, the lighting, the shading of the water… It’s really phenomenal. Do you photograph reference shots to pull from? How are you achieving such realism in that regard?”
Mark Heine – “I do shoot my own photographic reference material, to use as a starting point for my Sirens work. I often use a combination of elements from several photos to create the composition I’m looking for. A number of things add complexity to painting underwater scenes, such as broken light, surface reflection, exaggerated reflected colour, suspended particulate, etc. Light dancing over forms below the surface is fleeting, but very specific, if realism is the desired effect. Photography captures and holds that moment for me to study. Over time, I’ve become familiar with this dance of light and other specifics of this unusual location. It has allowed me to manipulate and play to suit my composition and intent. As I’m creating visualizations of a fictional world, I want the paintings to be as realistic as possible, to suspend the viewer’s disbelief and spark his or her imagination.
“The models I use in these reference shoots are my youngest daughter Sarah, and a family friend, Erica. I always use the natural environment as a backdrop for the shoots, since many real-world effects, such as sunken logs and other bottom structure, don’t of course happen in a controlled setting like a swimming pool. We shoot during the hottest days of summer, to take advantage of the light and the temperature of the water. Using three cameras, I can collect a good number of reference images. I storyboard the photo shoots to relate to scenes in my Sirens manuscript, so all of us involved have some Idea of what I’m after, and so the girls can move accordingly. But the results are always a surprise, for two reasons. First, there is no predicting what fabric will do underwater, so the girls’ costumes create their own dynamic. Second, we can’t view the photos while I’m shooting, because of the waterproof housings on the cameras. But what happens spontaneously is better than anything I could contrive, in any case.”
THinc. – “Your site mentions that you write in correlation with your work: “This complex narrative, involving human evolution and our natural environment, is the unifying conceptual thread that ties these surreal visions. Ultimately, the paintings will illuminate the completed book and will also serve as scale studies for larger, life-sized works, to be presented as a large scale show that will coincide with the launch of the book.” Is there a proposed date you hope to release the book? And what kind of writings do you do? Fiction? Non-fiction? Historical/literature writings?”
Mark Heine – “The book that will also be titled Sirens is a work of fiction – an anthropomorphic tale that examines humankind’s ambiguous and destructive relationship with the natural world, as seen from the point of view of the creatures who inhabit the oceans. Intended for the young adult audience, Sirens is in the genre of magical realism. I’ve envisioned a hidden, evolved, democratic society, literally lying just below the surface of our current reality. This society had been evolving for 400 million years before the first flipper ever touched land. I believe that we need to evolve in our thinking, or the extinction we currently visit on so many species will ultimately lead to our own. Painting and writing are the tools at my disposal to make whatever social difference I can.
“The Sirens manuscript is now in final draft. My wife Lisa, a professional editor for 35 years, will begin the edit early in the New Year, and we are currently looking for a literary agent to help secure a publisher. With so many steps ahead, we don’t have a date for release of the book, but in the meantime, I am continuing to paint for the Sirens show.”
THinc. – “In the above quote you mention you’d like to create life size paintings of these sirens – what size are these paintings now? I assumed they were enormous from the level of detail you are able to pack in to each painting.”
Mark Heine – “When I first started my Sirens series, I began with preliminary scale studies for life-sized works. I did these as either 30″ x 36″ or 24″ x 48″, which are quite a large sizes for studies. I’m now working on the larger paintings, which vary in size, depending on the figure in the preliminary study. The largest so far is 45″ x 54″, but I’m working my way up to the largest, which will be in the region of 4’ x 8’ … perhaps larger, as I’ve completed some that are actually larger than life size. I have four life-sized-or-larger pieces and 18 studies completed to date. Each of my paintings depicts a key moment in the story and will illuminate the finished book.”
THinc. – “What would you say to others that are hoping to break out of the 9 to 5 and make it, even cursorily in the art world? How did you get your big break?”
Mark Heine – “I’ve made my living in the arts for 33 years. Ten years ago, I decided to break out and focus my full-time attention on fine art. It was a big step to enter a career in which reputation takes years to build, but life is short, so I say go for it! I started painting my children interacting with the natural environment, because that was a passion for me. That led me eventually to my Sirens series, and to fictional writing. This fictional approach has allowed me to explore darker, more surreal themes. The point there is that, if you don’t start walking the road, you never know where it leads. If someone is looking to break out, I suggest that they focus on content about which they are passionate. Don’t paint for the sake of the painting; use your painting as a way to draw attention to something that is important to your heart. It’s likely that others share the same passion.
“Is there such a thing as a big break? We’re always looking for it, but I’m also grateful for a succession of small breaks. They add up. Finding the right venue has been key for me, recently. After a good deal of research and advice from friends, I’ve been fortunate to find representation with RJD Gallery in Sag Harbor, New York. They are my exclusive, worldwide representatives. As a result, my work is hanging with some of my favourite artists working today. That puts the reputation of the gallery behind my vision and brings confidence to collectors. I’m also hoping that the launch of the Sirens book will give context to my Sirens paintings and create forward momentum.”
THinc. – “And finally, these paintings are so peaceful, and calm, but sirens (at least in the mythos of the Greek world) are highly evil and malevolent. What are these sirens that you are painting up to? No good? Chaos? They seem like they are just at the edge of surface, at the edge of action… Should we all be nervous?”
Mark Heine – “I live on an island and have been on or near the ocean for most of my life. I put myself through art school as a fishing guide. In the summer of 2014, in an effort to gain a better understanding of the ocean I was writing about, I embarked on a trans-Pacific crossing, with a friend, on a 32-foot sailboat. I completed the outline for my Sirens book during our 66-day blue- water voyage.
“While we were sailing, I wondered: what if Homer’s description of sirens as femmes fatales was a misinterpretation of their intent? So my interpretation is quite different. My sirens are a fusion of ancient Greek and Coast Salish (Western Canada First Nations) mythology, in a story set today, amid the problems the world is currently facing. Their roles and abilities trace back to the Greek mythology. Their key ability, for my purpose, is their remarkable, hypnotic voice … the Siren song. But in my vision, it isn’t used to lure men to their deaths. Quite the opposite. And you are right, they do seem just at the edge of the surface, at the edge of action.
“Sirens is about innocence, romance, coercion, politics, murder and genocide. It’s about a struggle that plays out right here, if “here” is everywhere, just below the surface, and the fate of all living creatures hangs in the balance. Which, if you read the news, is pretty much where we are these days. So yes, I think we should all be nervous.”
So absolutely cool. Can’t even imagine what this life would be like. To be able to render your ideas on the canvas with such command of the technique? Wow. Mark, thanks so much for taking time out to chat with all of us. We really are very appreciative of you taking the time out of your busy schedule to fill us in a bit about your art, and your work.