Interview With
Ben Heine
By Claudio Parentela (*)
Let’s start with the basics; what's your full name, where do you live, and how old are you?

Ben Heine. I live in Brussels, Belgium and I’m 25 year old.

Do you have any formal training?

I studied journalism in Brussels during 4 years. I studied arts in a school in Hastings (England) during 1 year (painting, drawing, sculpting, photography, multimedia, history of art…). And I studied 6 months Technologies of Information and Communication in Utrecht (Holland). I also studied Slavic languages, history and cultures (Polish and Russian) during 2 years.

In art, I believe I’m mainly a passionate, open-minded and perseverant autodidact, ha ha! I did learn a few techniques when I personally met great masters such as Sebastian Kruger, Jan Op De Beeck, Marcin Bondarowicz and others. I think making mistakes and work hard to not make them again is the best teaching ever. I consider that motivation comes from inside an individual at 80%, the rest comes from outside.

I’m an optimistic and curious person, I’m always amazed, even scared to see all the things I still have to and want to learn and discover and all the people I have to and want to meet.

Did the place you grew up in influence your image making?

I was born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a beautiful, warm and colourful country in the West of Africa. I lived there all my early childhood, until 7. It definitely had a huge impact on the way I see my environment and the way I interact with people now.

Of course, such an experience also influenced the way I draw and represent things on paper or on canvas. I think this past life helps me now to find different sources of inspiration, in unexplored universes.

Sometimes, I’ve the impression to have no particular identity, to not be fully connected to this world, to have no precise roots and, in a way, to be a privileged “observer” of what’s going on around me. Like so many other artists, I’m a person who likes to produce things, it’s almost vital.

Furthermore, the fact that a significant part of my creations has a political substance, I perceive this function as a heavy responsibility to bear. Even if I have lots of pleasure doing what I’m doing, I have the strong feeling that it’s a duty, that I must use this special sensibility, my freedom of expression and my will to share my opinions an sentiments in a graphic way.

We’re all here on hearth for a short time. I’m convinced every one of us should do their best to know the place they live better, to have more sincere and simple relationships with other people and cultures, and to use what god has given them to promote peace and fight against oppression, discrimination, racism or violence.

How do you come up with your concepts?

Many concepts come to me when there is a conflict between my personal judgment of a situation and reality, may it be political or not.

When I have no clear ideas on something, reading is one of my methods to fill my brain with new elements and information. It usually works well, but it’s a long process. When I make political creations, I usually consult several articles related to the subject I want to illustrate. Writers every so often use impressive and gorgeous metaphors. I try to illustrate them.

When I make portraits, I read several biographies of the concerned persons; I try to know them as much as possible so that the representation fits their personality. For non political works, I just listen to my soul, my feelings and do anything as long as it relieves me completely. When the idea is found (this is often the longest step!), I start to draw and develop it, this is more technique.

Some precious ideas and concepts often come suddenly in incongruous moments. It happens at night, when making a jogging, when talking to a friend, when hearing something strange at the radio, when seeing something never seen before.

It depends also on the mood I have and on what my intentions are. The fact to live and learn new things is definitely something that generates concepts in my mind.

Describe your creations in a clear, concise and understandable sentence. What do you call them?

“Politico, fantastico, poetico, erotico, satirico, conceptual creations.”
It’s difficult to answer in one sentence to this question, because I’ve made paintings, sculptures, political cartoons, illustrations, portraits, caricatures, collages, photos, calligraphy, poem, etc.

I think we could simply call my recent graphic productions “cartoons”. Most of them are political images and intend to convey clear messages on current issues. With my experience in painting, I tend now to make illustrations, often surrealistic ones.

What other mediums would you like to explore in your image making?

I’d like to make totally digital graphic works. I find it very clean. I just started to retouch photos recently under a fake name: “Hubert Lebizay”. Ha ha, this is just a hobby and a challenge anyway, but I’m spending more and more time on this. Seriously, I intend to come back to traditional painting in the coming months, watercolour and acrylic, more precisely. I like the uncontrolled “happy happenings” that aquarelle creates and the high precision that is possible with acrylic. Both medium are magical. I hope to be able to get more textures and accuracy with these techniques. I might even add collages.

I’m sure a large number of my future creations will still have a political connotation. You know, this is the “duty” I was talking about… But they will certainly be about issues that concern us all, such as Global Warming…

What is the best time in the day for you to work on a project? Is there one, or is it more about the environment -- maybe the right mood?

I guess the environment has a tangible effect on mood. I usually work when I can due to lack of time. It can be at any moment in the day. Ideally, the period which is the most favourable to make things that require heavy concentration is in the afternoon while my best moment to be imaginative, escape in other dimensions and find original ideas and concepts is definitely either late in the evening or at night, when everything around is quite and seems far away. In prosperous moments, when my mind is full of ideas, I write or draw them quickly on paper, before I forget them the next day. I come back to these sketches weeks, months or even years after.

What are your artistic influences? and …generally who or what influences you the most?

I’m influenced by everything. In the art galaxy, the movements that influenced me the most are the German Expressionism, Belgian Surrealism and American Pop Art. My close and personal environment is a source of artistic creativity too. More recently, my main source of inspiration has been the international news. But I hope to be able to make timeless creations again, in a traditional way as I explained on question 6.

Who are some of your favourite artists/designers/photographers?

Many ! Some that I have in mind : Sebastian Kruger, Mike Flugennock, Nizar Outhman, David Baldinger, Nayer, Miroslav Gerencer, Glenn Ferguson, Man Ray, Richard Hamilton, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Doisneau, Alexander Rodchenko, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Brassai, Gilad Benari, Denis Olivier, Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel, Hieronymus Bosch, René Magritte, Paul Delvaux, Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Giorgo de Chirico, Gustav Klimt, Edward Munch, James Ensor, Constant Permeke, Max Beckmann, Salvador Dali, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Vincent Van Gogh, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Toulouse Lautrec, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, Takashi Murakami, Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Aya Takano, Yoshitomo Nara and many others…

What is your next project? Exhibition? Collaboration?

My cartoon “Facebook Vs Myspace” will be published in the German version of “Rolling Stone” and I currently have an exhibition in a Belgian pub called “Le Courant d’Air”.

What are your plans for the future?

Have a family and keep being creative.

Are there some web sites that you would like to recommend? Artists, art communities, xxx,...!?

Many! Every week, I put on my blog a selection of interesting links I discovered. Here is an example of some recent choices:

What sort of music do you listen to?

Although I chose graphic art to express myself, I’m convinced that music is the supreme art. It penetrates people in a much more powerful and universal way than any other form of artistic expression. I used to love songs only for their lyrics. Now, I tend to appreciate more musical melodies and rhythms, without any words. Any kind of melodies and rhythms, from classic to electro house. True talents can be found in any style.

Do you collect anything? If so what?

I’m not really a collector. What I collect the most are happy memories…

What do you do for fun?

I dance rock ‘n’ roll. :)

Any advice you can pass onto aspiring artists/designers?

I would tell them to be themselves, to keep being creative, dynamic and prolific whatever happens, to be original, unconventional and not afraid to stir up principles, to make artworks that have a strong meaning and force people to think or see the world in a different angle, to cherish noble values, to believe in genuine peace and democracy, to be a reflection of the society they live in.


>>> The interview is also on Claudio Parentela's blog

(*) Claudio Parentela was born in 1962 in Catanzaro (Italy), where he still lives and works. Claudio is an illustrator, painter, photographer, mail artist, cartoonist, collagist and free lance journalist. He has interviewed a great number of other fellow artists (the interviews can be seen on his blog.

He has been active many years in the international underground scene. He has collaborated with several online and printed magazines specialized in contemporary art, literary and comics in Italy and worldwide. Visit his website for more information.