An unusual crossing: A dialogue with Mark Heine

With: Juan Pablo Torres Muñiz
Mark Heine. A complex body of work. While for a bad observer it displays predominantly an exceptional technique, in true it shines with its peculiar manner of challenging things from the perspective of an illusion of suspended time. Thus there’s, for each stroke and each touch, an intention.   
At play is the subject of the own identity, for example, and of the levels of consciousness; and of the interaction with the environment. Though not as a provocation, but as an invitation to immerse oneself, maybe in dreams.

Love and protest are the parents of the Sirens project. As a father, I’m worried about humankind’s treatment of the environment, and our lack of motivation for creating and securing a sustainable future for our children.
In paintings that accompany and will illustrate a fictional novel, Sirens is an anthropomorphic tale that looks at humankind’s treatment of the environment, from the point of view of the creatures who inhabit the oceans. The paintings are myth-like figurative works in water, which, for most of us, is a foreign and mysterious environment. The novel is a work of mystical realism for adults and young adults.
Therefore, new lights appear…
In which way the sense of illustration as a labour has changed the visual discourse in your most personal work?
I began my artistic career as an illustrator and worked in the field for 25 years. When I chose to break from illustration and paint for gallery display, it was very freeing. I could choose my style and subjects without the influence of others. I began writing my observations of each painting on the painting’s back label, to add to my expression. A number of viewers said that they preferred to come to their own conclusions when interpreting a painting, so felt that it was against the “rules” of art to explain a work in a written statement.
My reply was that there should be no rules for art, and perhaps my written work was my rebellion against the “rules” mindset. When I turned to writing fiction, my career seemed to come full circle: I am now painting to illuminate my own manuscript. For the fine-art world, my Sirens book is a 400-page back label, spread across a series of interconnected paintings. For the literary world, Sirens is a book with illustrations. In my visual discourse now, I want to blur the lines between the two disciplines.
To say immersion entails a degree of abandonment to the substance, to the matter itself, and this abandoment conditions the proper exploration, the execution. And also the ensuing repose of our impulse of anticipation.
Nonetheless, in these paintings, such an abandoment is only partial and points basically –and literally– to the body; it keeps safe, thus, a basic consciousness of the phenomenon.
It is more than a detail. The heads stay out of the water; their immersion –a violent one– gives place to a clear tension for returning to the surface. The danger of perishing, losing control… remains patent. This control has to do maybe with the discourse inside each key to the exposition’s concept. Cause, explanations… Literature…
“Literature” usually embraces just written works. But for the purposes of my Sirens project, I do believe in a literature of image, yes. It may be called “illustration,” but fine art often appeals to a number of our senses, such as touch, sound, scent, etc., and provokes thought and reaction. That said, where is the line between “literature” and “image” in this project, since there is a written work as well as images? That’s where the blur hopefully comes in: my mix of written fiction and visual art is intended to appeal to multiple senses, through both the viewer’s eye and their imagination.
References contribute to this issue. Their variety determines in good measure the width of the interpretations’ possibilities.
(From Yourcenar’s Memoires of Hadrian: “What is our insomnia but the mad obstinacy of our mind in manufacturing thoughts and trains of reasoning, syllogisms and definitions of its own, refusing to abdicate in favor of that divine stupidity of closed eyes, or the wise folly of dreams?”)
From which sources (excluding painting) does your artwork feed?
In my early painting career, I focused on the beauty and lifestyle of the Pacific coast of Canada, featuring my children interacting with the natural world. But I realized that I was taking from this well, and not contributing back to it. I changed my focus when I realized that all of that beauty was vulnerable to the imminent threat of oil tankers –all to feed the bank accounts of a few already obscenely rich oil companies. In my opinion, the wealth of a privileged few does not trump the moral right of every citizen on earth to a clean and healthy place to live. The Sirens project is both a personal protest and my way of giving back to the environment and doing what I can to protect it, so that it’s there for all of us and for the children of the future.
Ethics… To choose involves a standard, therefore, a possibility of measuring and  evolution. It’s clear that the position that has been affirmed, also adapts itself, maintaining, of course, the core; nonetheless: What do you question yourself in respect of your own work?
After 33 years as a professional artist, I’m aware of my skills and where they sit along the curve of artistic quality. I also believe that my work is constantly evolving and improving, so I have no worries there. My concerns now rise along the path of getting my message out and seen by a busy, over-stimulated public. Literary agents and publishers are a new challenge to overcome, along with the many new electronic formats for marketing written work.
Your website deals with explaining and widening the scope of your paintings, besides other issues. Is it about broadening the same discourse? A prism?
If the images of my Sirens paintings could have been seen in Homeric times, they perhaps wouldn’t have needed words –and the story would of course have been very different. This project is a modern interpretation of the mythological femmes fatales made famous in Homer’s Odyssey. Their unique characteristic was their powerful, persuasive Siren voice.
I’m harnessing the suggestion of that voice to carry my message, which is something of an unusual crossover. So, more than 2700 years after the original tale, I include the descriptions on my website to help people understand my intent behind this unusual subject and setting. My interpretation blends Greek mythology with the rich and mysterious culture of the indigenous Nootka people of Western Canada.
And in other places, like Walcott’s Omeros. And the variety of senses, in accordance with culture. Maybe the term “history” yields its widest and most universal significance through fiction. The truth it conveys serves also to a more ample comprehension of reality itself.
I like the term “prism.” I don’t see my work as a single stream of visible white light, meant for the eyes only. The prism of my website splits that single beam and makes visible the multiple streams of thought and intent behind the work.
 What can we wait for now…? 
The process of writing, painting, editing and publishing is time consuming. It has taken me five years, so far, and there is still a distance to go. The “big new” will be when the complete package becomes available to everyone. While I wait for that process to unfold, I will continue to explore and refine my vision, with new paintings. Each adds more and more detail to my vision, helping my audience understand my intent. The steady release of new work, as I wait for the future to unfold, keeps the project vibrant and interesting for both myself and my audience.
I’m also at work on a sequel to the Sirens book.
To sail, therefore, waiting to find again its sign, the figurative song, a signal for going back into the depth …
(Translation by Roberto Zeballos Rebaza)

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