Janette Munoz : How do you define creativity?
Ben Heine : I think there are many definitions. Instinctively, I would say that creativity is a mental process involving ideas, imagination, originality and feelings. Creativity can also be achieved through chance. Creativity is the result of inspiration. The question is where does the inspiration come from? Something is creative when someone considers it creative. Anti creation is also a creative behaviour. When I try to be creative, I want to control what I'm doing and I'm “playing” with my imagination by mixing ideas. I use chance only to discover the qualities of new media I'm working with (for instance the effect of an acrylic colour on a specific type of paper, canvas...)
Do you believe that each person has the capacity to be creative? Why?
Yes, I do believe we all have the same capacity. We all have a creativity potential. We are all creative beings in a small or large scale. Somebody who has nothing (no financial wealth, no time, no artistic background…) can simply have a creative life by acting and speaking in an original way. Next to the technical achievements, the experience and the work, I think that the capacity to be creative has also a lot to do with material access, time, motivation...
How did you find your creative niche?
I always wanted to have my own style and niche. I have been criticized many times for not having a personal approach of creating. I was very disappointed and frustrated with this situation. I definitely think I didn’t find my final niche. I’m sure my works will continue to evolve. I’ll be influenced by other artists, by other styles and niches, by society itself and by my personal mistakes. The thing is that I know that if you want to be seen as a credible artist, you need to follow a single style. That’s a tremendous pressure. Each time I enter in a creative process, I’m a bit torn apart between this “style rule” (which is a stupid convention) and the desire to try different techniques.
Do you think creativity is innate or learned? Explain.
Well that's a good question. Honestly I believe it’s all learned. Creativity is a process that has to be trained. Like biking, when you get the confidence and the technique, then you don’t forget. And when I see the great accomplishments of artists friends, I have the impression that there are as many creativities as there are human beings.
Who or what experiences have inspired your work?
I have always been inspired by German expressionism (I think, for example, about the artwork of Otto Dix), by Belgian surrealism (for instance the famous Magritte and Delvaux) and by American Pop Art. I had a History of Art course when I was in Secondary School. The teacher of this course was a bright and passionate woman. She took us in several Belgian and French museums, explaining us many things. I think my passion started there. Passion is contagious. I began to draw. I remember of visiting an exhibition of the famous Greek-born Italian Surrealist Painter Giorgio de Chirico. I was seduced by his artwork and eccentricity. Then I discovered other artists and museums in my country and abroad. Each visit and each artist had an influence on my personal creations. Later, my journalism studies have brought me the political grounds to draw cartoons.
Have you always wanted to do what you are doing? If not, what made you decide to start?
The passion of painting came at a young age. I have always wanted to “create”, to “produce”. On the contrary, assimilation and imitation have always been hard to me. I started to make political cartoons when I couldn't stand anymore the social and political injustices worldwide.
Does spirituality and culture play a role in your creativity? Explain.
Yes. A lot. Especially when I draw cartoons, which have more political meaning than the paintings. When I paint, I usually use timeless symbols that don’t convey any direct opinion. With the political cartoon, culture is more important. I use cultural codes. Even if it’s not my purpose, some of these codes can hurt people and be misinterpreted by one or another culture.
How important is education to your creative process?
I feel that my artistic background is very important. As I said, I believe creativity is learned. The artistic education I received at school, at university, in the museums and in the company of great artists had and has a deep impact on my creative process. The way I create is also the result of the upraising I received. The fact that I was born in Africa and stayed there several years confronted me at a young age to different and noble values, and helped me to see the world in the way I perceive it. Again, I believe there is nothing “genetical” in the creation process; I rather have the conviction that it’s all “spiritual”. The only thing that may be has to do with genes is healthiness and resistance.
How do you deal with creativity blocks?
I’m lucky, because it almost never happens. When I don’t have ideas for a political realistic subject, or even for a surrealistic piece, then I do an abstract work. I really have no stereotype and I think all kinds of creation are worth. I’m usually not afraid of the “white page or white canvas”. Being creative is surely a challenge, but like in everything, it’s something you get used too. You can do less creative works that are still significant and important in the long term.
What part of you do you share in your creative endeavours?
My cartoons are usually related to day to day facts, political news, portraits of prominent persons… Through my drawings, I also want to defend the oppressed and suffering people. The paintings are certainly more about my personal life, even if I try to give them a "universal" message. I try to view society with different eyes. I try to translate feelings and situations in images and express odours and gestures with lines and colours. The paintings have to do with personal and collective emotions.
Have you had to overcome obstacles (physical, financial, social, etc.) in your creative world? Explain.
The main obstacle is the pressure of time. There are so many important subjects to deal with. This time problem generates other ones: it becomes a social problem. Cartooning is truly a life commitment. The social obstacle becomes a feeling of guiltiness. What is gained in one side is of course lost in the other…
Do you believe that it is important to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.
I don’ believe that’s important to be accepted by others as being creative. For me, it is really not important whether other people consider me to be a creative person or not. I’m rather glad when people don’t like my artworks. I’m even happier when they say it’s because they find them shocking. I just want my works to have concrete effects and influence. I want to interact with people, but I don’t care if they like it or not. I produce art with the hope to make this world a bit better...
Interview by Janette Munoz