Other Interview
With Ben Heine .
Ben by Rohan Voigt
By Andrei Pavel (*)
You made it on finding your own style. Why this choice, why illustration?

Do I have a specific style? Thank you! Let’s say so. I think that “getting a style” shouldn’t be a purpose in itself. A good piece of art will be good even if it’s not officially “stylized”. Strong and recognizable styles are always useful for artists who do not sign their creations due to lack of time. People will always be sure it’s theirs! Ha ha.

Anyway, finding my own way in art was not an easy task at all, I remember my beginnings in painting, some 8 years ago, when I was about 17, many people actually disliked what I was doing. I think it had too many personal connotations and it was barely understandable for any other viewer. I’ve continued to paint, not worrying about people’s opinions.

One day, I suddenly realized it was completely useless to create art that was meaningless and that didn’t bring something to people. I tried to create images that are already somewhere in people’s minds, but that they never ever saw before. I worked on this very hard, and I came back to drawing. I really wanted my creations to have an impact on people. I tried new techniques, new materials, new tools, new textures, and new sources of inspiration.

When I was younger, I used to practice different artistic disciplines. Among other activities, I used to write poetry (in French), play guitar, drums and piano and I even used to dance. When I was about 18, a devoted teacher in art history transmitted her passion to me. Although I had been creating and drawing intensively since the age of 11, this was the moment I really knew graphic arts would be in the centre of my adult life. I could have attended her class hours and hours every day. The same person was also teacher of psychology, and I also loved attending this course. This is when I began to read in people’s minds. I got more interested in Jung’s theory on the collective subconscious and tried to search within myself for universal images and symbols.

Then I started painting. I produced about two hundred large paintings in a few months, just after my 1 year trip in Hastings, in England.

When I started my studies in Journalism at 19, I made much more realistic illustrations with political and social meanings. Illustration allows artists to use different materials and methods while creating infinite kinds of content, may they be abstract, surrealistic, political…

Political illustration was also perfectly fitting my new identity as a young journalist. Although I was prepared to write news articles, I never really considered myself as a real journalist… I find this function very important but boring somehow. I chose graphic art, because it’s what I’m the best at. I intend now to make political creations that have a universal meaning, that concern us all, as human beings (Issues like global warming...).

One of my dreams is to see the establishment of a “cartoon department” in all the faculties of journalism in Belgium, in Europe, in the World. We all should learn to express ourselves more with icons and images… It could even engender a new dimension to inter-human communication.

I’m now 25, I work in a creative Communication Agency in Belgium. I’m still sincerely willing to make political art for the weak and oppressed ones, to do my best to bring some hope and courage for those who need it the most and to make art that promotes authentic peace and democracy in a mad world.

What are the elements that make your drawings different from others?

Regarding form, I made most of my drawings (portraits and cartoons) with a black ballpoint pen on paper (with digital colours and enhancements added afterwards). This is a very easy and rewarding technique. I know it may sound paradoxical, but you can get some extraordinary textures and high contrasts with such a simple instrument. At the beginning, I always put too much ink. Now, I rather try to be more “minimalist”, with just enough information to be understandable. My lines and shapes are rather sharp and I search the highest contrast most of the time. I often mix cold and warm colours.

But as I said, I don’t try to have a specific style. I guess this is my technique and the way I express messages that make me recognizable among other artists’ work. Now, I think that my “ballpoint pen period” is over, ha ha. I’m gonna make more fully traditional illustrations and come back to painting (watercolour and acrylic).

As far as content, in my non-political creations, I often use personal metaphors with soft, sweet and tender meaning. My political production is more explosive.

You're very interested and "concerned" when coming to politics. What's the main theme and messages for people reading this to understand better what it's involving?

First of all, I’d like to say that I have no political sponsors; I don’t create for anybody’s sake. I make political illustrations for those who suffer and against the corrupted and the warmongers.

I have always been deeply shocked by any kind of injustice. In my political work, my aim is to denounce imperialism, racism, oppression, discrimination, violence, Human Rights infringements, crimes against humanity… and my final goal and ideal is to promote peace and mutual respect between people of different cultures and backgrounds. This is how I was brought to draw about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

I realize that I've made a few mistakes with some drawings on this particular issue, which is a terribly complex one. I sometimes find them "too offensive” or “too provocative”. I think my political creations shouldn’t hurt unnecessarily one community or another. They should make people think and act in a peaceful way.

I’m a huge partisan of wide freedom of expression, considering that responsibility must be taken for everything said, written, done or drawn.

When I publish stuff online, I often receive propositions and requests of publications from different organizations. The Internet is a fantastic tool for digital activists. Although it’s a huge machine totally out of control, it helps supporters of the oppressed people having a voice in the emptiness. Sometimes this has great effects and it always amazes me how well constructed actions from militants can generate real and positive social changes and concrete political improvements. This is what I hope will happen more and more.

I also noticed you have a big amount of Romanians in your drawings. I'm talking here about Caragiale, Eliade, Nichita Stanescu, Iorga, Titu Maiorescu and Tzara. Even Basescu twice! What got your attention on them? Because every image is completed by articles and research...

Yes, it’s true; I made several caricatures of famous Romanian people. It was for the Romanian Cartoon Association called “Caricatura”. Many international artists have participated to this permanent contest. I thought it was worth sending my portraits too.

As for the articles and research accompanying the caricatures, I did this to add useful information for the readers. I think any image is much richer and clearer when there is qualitative textual information next to it. I have read different things on these people and on the Romanian past and current political landscape. I found it very interesting!

Your work brought you prizes too. Can you tell me about them? And also about the publications?

Yes, I won a few awards, but this is not very important. I don’t make illustrations for that. Sometimes it happens, and it’s really a surprise! For examples, I recently received a Success Award for a cartoon I submitted to the "1st International Cartoon Contest - Naji Al Ali" organized by "Syriacartoon". I also received some weeks ago a Certificate of Appreciation from “BuzziNews”, an online journal reporting exclusively in cartoons…

As for the publications, my illustrations have appeared in several printed magazines and papers, such as ‘La Libre Belgique’ (Belgium), ‘European Voice’ (Belgium), ‘Rolling Stone’ (Germany), ‘Acque & Terre’ (Italia), ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’, Polish edition (Poland), ‘As-Safir’ (Lebanon), ‘Al Baath’ (Syria), ‘Europa In De Wereld’ (Holland), ‘Pulse’ (Great Britain)…

I created book covers and illustrations for renowned authors (such as James Petras, Mark Prime, Mike Palecek…). I also made CD covers, posters, and t-shirt designs.

I’m also member of numerous political associations and cartoon organizations, something I’m very proud of and which brings me a better exposure worldwide.

I’ve had the chance to exhibit my creations in Belgium, Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Palestine. I even had a virtual exhibition of my paintings in Second Life!


>>> This interview will soon appear in English and Romanian on SensoTV

(*) Andrei Pavel is a 25 year old digital creator living in Bucharest, Romania. He makes fractal art. He recently interviewed several artists. All the interviews can be seen in English and Romanian on Sensotv.ro. More information on Pavel.

>>> See another interview I had with Claudio Parentela