Interview for Cultural Voice

Portrait of Ben Heine by Rolando

Ben and model in a science Museum
French, they say, is the language of love. Ben Heine, graphic artist, musician, and photographer dabbles in a different sort of love, the love of art. This cultural aristocrat, if there ever were one, is a man of diverse culture, a speaker of at least six languages, Heine is the quintessential cosmopolitan, without the usual air of self-indulgence and smugness which typically attend folks who have achieved as he has. 

A Gallery Of Talent

Rainbow canyon - ben heine photography
Rainbow Canyon
It is not the fact that being an artist is something I wanted to be absolutely, it’s just that art came to me, I didn't have any choice” Ben proclaims poetically. “It’s the only thing I am not bad at. I am not anything else, so I guess, I am an artist.” Heine naturally eschews praise, refusing to rest on his laurels. “Art is not a goal in and of itself, it’s just a description. Every person is an artist; it’s just that sometimes they don’t know it. We are all able to express things. All we need is to find the right tools, the right time, the right people and the right place to do so.

Ben playing the piano in his studio
An aspiring musician with an unmolested love for electronic music, Heine plays the piano and the guitar but considers himself the consummate drummer. “Music is more powerful,” he interjects, a startling confession for an artist whose claim to fame is a non-musical endeavour. “I started playing music two years ago secretly,” that is, until he developed the confidence to share his passion with the world. His love for music marries well with his love for graphic art, “It complements my graphic work and it helps me to grow as an artist.

Limited Edition Prints
Ben's Bob and Marilyn portraits
This is readily apparent in Heine’s graphically artful recreation of Bob Marley, who he says, inspires him because of “his message and values of universality and inclusivity.” It is these “timeless themes that inspire my work, as well as notions of freedom, happiness, love and friendship, it gives me hope and strength and it helps me to live a better life.

The Birth Of “Pencil Vs Camera”

Heine started putting pencil to paper when he was only eleven years of age. Traditionally trained and schooled in journalism and communications at the prestigious Belgian university, Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), where he began, and later completed his studies at IHECS Journalism High School. 

Project for Museum Night Fever
Heine tried his hand at political cartoons. This brief encounter was far less charitable to him than he had hoped, “it only brought me trouble.” His political activism, at the cusp of his youth, unleashed a string of criticism and threats. In the end, Heine felt it was perhaps wiser to spend his talent elsewhere and walked away from political cartoons, vowing never to return.

PvsC Behind the scene
All was not lost, however. It was his training in photography during his studies that wedded his drawing to his camera. “I wasn’t satisfied with only drawing or only photography, so I had to find a way to merge the two and this is how Pencil Vs Camera was born.” Arguably the most successful artistic collection Heine has created so far, Pencil Vs Camera, hopes to “bring some imagination and surrealism to the photography,” creating “an interesting combination.” This series of artworks is considered as one of the most creative ones ever.

Ben shooting at Teide volcano
The collection began in 2010 and was the only one of its kind. Today, others have borrowed from Heine’s brilliance, and started to fashion for themselves, something of a replica. Many schools worldwide started teaching Ben's techniques to their students. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery...

Social Media Buzz

3D Pencil Vs Camera in progress
Heine lit social media ablaze, commanding an impressive 220 thousand “likes” on Facebook. He notes that “Social media helps. It creates each time a mini- buzz for your art.” But Heine is quick to qualify that its effect on sales remains to be seen. Heine receives some, but limited, sponsorship from private entities. He admits that much of his income is generated from the sale of his art work and via art exhibitions. When opportunity allows, he also partners with other artists to create artistic collaborations.

Above the clouds in Tenerife
In a raw, reflective moment, Heine reminds artists not to be careless with their work. “I started naively, when I was young, being very generous and providing high resolution pictures to others. Nowadays if you hand-out high resolution samples of your art, you’re dead as an artist,” he exclaims in a sullen voice. 

Heine also advises that artists give “150%, so that they don’t regret anything” and finally, “to ignore” naysayers who say “you can’t do it.” When all is said and done, Heine hopes his legacy is one of “innovation” and he is remembered as “a creative artist and a champion of peace and love. I hope young people will be inspired by what I’m doing.

Ben's Babies

Ben Heine and his son Theo
Married, with a new-born son, Theo, Ben reveals, “I am very proud of him. It’s one of the things I am most proud of. I don't even remember how was my life before he was born. He changed me, he changed my life. Being a father is really something you learn slowly. I hope I'm a good father.” And, with a deliberate word of interjection, “And all of my artworks, they are my babies as well, each one has its own character.

tenerife, islas canarias
Illustrating "Los Gigantes"
Many a generation of artists look to the drawings of Da Vinci, the paintings of Picasso and Rembrandt, they may yet, one day, look with favour upon Ben Heine. I’ll leave it to art historians to decide the legacy of Pencil Vs Camera, but I can, and will say, it’s sketching its own path to be soulful art to a hungry tech-savvy generation.

Note: This interview was written by Derefe Chevannes and originally appeared in Cultural Voice, a magazine released in Jamaica and worldwide.