Ben Heine: Multidisciplinary Visual Artist Finds Harmony Between Media

An Interview with the Artist, Photographer and Music Producer

Artwork by Ben Heine

Ben Heine is a multidisciplinary visual artist in the true sense. He can play the drums, piano, guitar, can speak six languages, has a degree in journalism and most importantly can paint and photograph. Two very strong visual media of drawing and photography become unified to create fascinating pieces of art. The success of his project Pencil vs Camera, conceived in April 2010, is a proof of that. Digital Circlism, another idea materialised around the same point in time blends the best of pop art and pointillism to recreate portraits of famous personalities such as Marilyn Monroe, Freddie Mercury, Johny Depp, Lady Gaga and so on. Flesh and Acrylic is one of his latest projects have started in 2011.

Born on 12th June 1983 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Ben spent first 7 years of his life there before moving to Brussels in 1990. His interests run deep into Belgian Surrealism, German Expressionism, American Pop Art, and Social Realism.

At a very young age, you have experimented with and trod various avenues of visual art forms. How much of it is to actively gain the pleasures of working with different genres of art as opposed to having an intuition of starting something that has never been attempted before?

When I started my ‘Pencil Vs Camera’ series in which I mix photography and drawing, I didn’t know of course it would generate so much interest. I really started this randomly and I didn’t know exactly what impact it would have. I had in mind to do only one image with this concept, but the interest was so big from the beginning that I quickly realized it was important to keep working on it. So I spent 2 years of my life developing this idea and building a portfolio of artworks with many variations.

Through photography, you portray both human emotions and nature’s beauty. What is your approach to capturing the many hues of life and planet earth?

I like to portray people and animals, capturing their emotion and giving them a new dimension. I like to show in a simple way the beautiful landscapes earth offers.

Describe your feelings when you are completely one with your work, your artistic creations.

Most of my recent artworks are a complete reflection of what I am. There are different levels of interpretation for each of my pictures. There is the visible message I try to convey and there is what the image means for me and the context in which I made it. This is less obvious for the viewer and only people who know me well can clearly see the connection.

Pencil vs Camera, Artwork by Ben Heine
Pencil vs Camera

You have successfully managed to blend your passions for both photography and drawing or painting through ‘Pencil vs Camera’. In a subtle way, you also incorporated a piece of imagery through your sketches of something that is only happening in your mind’s eye without being ever present in front of the camera lens. Did you ever feel it was not so much of pencil ‘vs’ camera but how pencil tied-the-knot with the camera that was depicted through the project?

Yes, you’re right, at the beginning, I thought it was the opposition between the two disciplines that was the original part of the concept, but I realise more and more that maybe it’s more the harmony between the different mediums that makes it interesting and special. Drawing and photography work well together because photography shows the reality as it is and the drawing shows it as I would like it to be in my imagination. The strong point of the concept is that there is no limit, everything can be represented on the piece of paper…

As an artist, how difficult is playing the balancing act of satisfying the client’s interests for commercial projects along with his own urge of creative contentment? Do you have any suggestion for the beginners in this field who may be struggling to balance the two and in the process stifling his passion for creativity?

When doing a project for a client, it’s indeed often difficult for both parties to be totally happy with the final work, so it’s important to establish the terms of collaboration from the beginning and to anticipate any potential conflict. Usually, I bring my personal interest, creative process and sources of inspiration even when I’m working for a client, but it may be useful for creators to put their personal emotions away when they work on professional collaborations so that it meets the client’s wishes.

Bob Marley, Artwork by Ben HeineFreddie Mercury, Artwork by Ben Heine

You are also a multi-linguist. Can you share a couple of phrases that are very close to your heart from all the languages you have mastered so far besides the language of art?

Lovely. Here are a few sentences I like to say when I speak one of these languages:

  • French: oh là là, il est temps de faire dodo!
  • English: I love you because you’re special!
  • Dutch: Twee vliegen in één klap, het is altijd beter!
  • Spanish: Más vale solo que mal acompañado!
  • Polish: Kto rano wstaje, temu Pan Bóg daje!
  • Russian: Мне бы хотелось побывать в вашей стране!

How to ensure that exposure to different cultures, experiences and even knowledge of artistic movements at different era do not become a limiting factor but work as an impetus for being adventurous and seeking out new territories in the infinite world of art?

I think art is a never-ending cycle, but it’s a cycle, it means that for each era of time and in each human culture, there are some aspects reappearing. It is important to know that. So as a creator, I try to be a reflection of the society I’m living in, let’s say in a specific time and space. And I always try to be innovative, that’s the most difficult part.

If Ben is requested to illustrate ‘Looking at Myself’ featuring himself what would his artistic journey thus far reveal?

I don’t really know who I am and where I’m going. I only know what I’m doing and in which context I’m evolving. So if I were to depict myself, I’d show me asking questions…

Portrait of Ben Heine

Ben Heine

Ben loves to spend his hard-earned holidays in Spain. He read and reread ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ by Patrick Süskind many times but never ceases to be interested in it. He loves listening to Feist – My Moon My Man – Remix by Boys Noize between his work and watching Inception whenever he manages a bit of time for himself. Nothing tickles his taste buds more than the smell of freshly baked bread. And oh yes, you guessed correctly, his favourite colour happens to be Blue.

Find more of his work at his website.

Image Courtesy: Ben Heine