Ben is a painter, illustrator, portraitist, caricaturist, photographer and former activist who has studied Journalism, graphic arts and sculpture...but above all, he's a truly talented artist.
Being an artist for him is, "a lifetime commitment, a second nature, something I'm not even aware of. There wasn't any specific day or year I decided to become an 'artist'." he shares.
An artist who can fluently speak in English, French, Dutch and not-so fluently communicate in Polish, Spanish and Russian. His Pencil Vs Camera series has gained much deserved appreciation and is known for its poetic mix of reality and imagination. Ben who is currently involved in Affodable Art Fair that opens on Friday has taken time out of his busy schedule to answers couple of our curious questions. He will also be a part second main event of Contemporary Art in Belgium, which is an once a year event. Read further to learn more about him and his artwork:
Please introduce yourself to our readers. Tell us a bit about your background as an artist and a photographer.
I’m 27-year-old, born in Africa, living and working in Brussels, the Capital of Europe. I paint, I draw, I take photos… visual art is my major interest in life. My creations got noticed mainly thanks to a new series called «Pencil Vs Camera». I graduated in Journalism several years ago. I’ve done different jobs so far, but graphic art was always the strongest passion and I’m now making a living out of it. I’m exhibiting my photos/paintings in several countries.
What motivates you to create such masterpieces? Who/ what is your inspiration?
“Masterpiece” is a big word... I just make art for people. I want them to dream and forget their daily troubles. I used to write poems many years ago, I want to convey a poetic meaning into my pictures, each new creation should tell a story and generate an intense emotion, like a poem, like a melody. I also want to discover new universes and use new tools or mix them together in an unusual way. Everything around me is a source of inspiration.
There is always a story behind becoming a successful person. We would love to learn your story as well.
Well, I’m not sure I have something spectacular to say about that. My life is rather normal. I’ve had the chance to make some artworks that had a big impact on people recently, and that’s it. In the past, I used to make some political illustrations (mainly during my studies in Journalism). I was an artist before being an activist. I’m no longer an activist; I remain an artist, forever. I’ve also had the chance to meet some amazing persons so far. They give me strength and hopes.
When I first viewed your Pencil Vs Camera images, the first word in my mind was “awesome” and the second thought was 'how are these made'. Well, I am still wondering. Tell us briefly how these images are created? How did this idea occur to you?
Thanks for the compliment. Concerning the making, there are several methods but the concept is quite easy to understand: I usually make a drawing on a small piece of paper and take a photo of my hand holding it in an interesting place. May I suggest you to see this very recent video report intending to quickly show the way I’m making a Pencil Vs Camera image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyyxVZcT4bQ.
The original idea came almost one year ago (in April 2010) quite by coincidence but I’m sure it was the result of a slow evolution and the outcome of my personal graphic exploration. For instance, I made this drawing more than 2 years before I started the Pencil Vs Camera project: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benheine/2440299389/.
It is only a rough drawing but the concept is very similar. Later on, I thought it would be nice to mix my 2 creative passions: Photography and drawing, reality and imagination. I just had to find the best way to do it. I like to focus on architecture, portraits, and animals. Among many others, the main themes approached in "Pencil Vs Camera" are love and friendship. My hand is always clearly visible. That was a difficult choice but it emphasizes the intimate connection between the viewer and the action happening on the piece of paper. The concept will certainly evolve in time.
On your blog, I came across another project of yours called 'The Dancer'. It is so impactful! What do you have to say about it?
That piece is very personal. It is dedicated to my mother who is a fervent and talented choreographer and dance teacher. It is made with hundreds of hand-written words. It is a combination of calligraphy and typography. I always love to use small elements that make a whole new image when placed together.
Another project, 'Maybe', a contradiction made in a creative way. I read its caption, which really moved me. What are your views on it?
It's just a very rough idea quickly realized. The group says "no" but the individual says "yes"... This is a contradiction I have often noticed in human societies, especially in Belgium, where we have some serious political troubles right now. The people of Belgium (the group) want to stay united and say "yes" to a peaceful nation but a few politicians say "no" and want the division of this (already small) country.
You have made an awesome portrait of Julian Assange using '@'. The good news is you're going to make a portrait of the 20,000th person subscribing to your Facebook Page. Have you thought of any concept of creating that portrait of the lucky 20,000th person?
Haha, I see you’re aware of my latest notes on Facebook… I don’t know yet what exactly I’ll do for this 20,000th person. But I’ll do my best to give him/her something original and that suits his/her goals and personality. The "At sign" typographic characters were perfect for Julian Assange as he is quite a powerful cyber activist.
You possess so many creations! Which one is closest to your heart and why?
Usually, my favorite image is the latest I’ve been working on. So right now, the closest to my heart is “Pencil Vs Camera – 49”. But my next pictures will be even more exciting to do!
What was the turning point in your career or is it yet to come?
Pencil Vs Camera was certainly a major stage in my artistic life. I don’t know how the public will react to my next projects. We’ll see. I’ll do my best.
What are the challenges that a struggling artist has to face to create a space for himself in this competitive web world?
Competition is sadly very present in our society. We learn it at school from a very young age: If you don’t get better marks than your fellows, you’re seen as a very silly, incompetent and uninteresting person. It’s the same for adults… You’ve got to be the best or you’ll be treated like trash. Of course, I despise this. I find it awful and terrible. But it’s difficult to change the core values and the culture of a whole system in our society. There isn’t a single intelligence. There are many sorts of aptitudes for sure. Everybody is good at something! I think an artist should stand out from the crowd simply by being himself/herself. Creativity, quality, hard work and innovation should be the leitmotivs.
How and where do you promote your work? As an experienced and successful artist, what do you think is more important-to promote your work online or offline? Which brings more recognition to an artist's artwork?
Online or offline… That’s the question. I would say it depends from one person to another. There are many options to get more exposure. For instance, if you have a huge network offline and get opportunities to exhibit your work in art galleries and fairs and that you can make a living out of it, that’s great and I guess you won’t even need to promote your art online. But if you start from scratch, and if you believe you’ve got something interesting to show to others, then, online platforms can definitely help you to get noticed. They are easy to use and not expensive.
If your art really brings something new, it will be noticed. Keep hoping. Keep working. As far as I’m concerned, I started sharing my works mainly on 3 sites since 2006: my blog, Flickr and DeviantArt (also my official website, but it’s less frequently updated so I don’t count it in). Online or offline… Both are important in the end. I would say, try having a consistent presence on the web and also in the real world. This is the most interesting choice in my views.
How would you rate “Social Networking Sites” as a tool to promote your work online on a scale of 10?
I would say 7/10. Social Neworking Sites are awesome and very helpful; I mainly use them to stay in touch with people that find interest in my creations. In my opinion, art sites like Flickr and DeviantArt are even more powerful to get known in your field.
Any project on the cards? Is there any dream project of yours?
To be honest, there are a lot of new projects I would like to start. Too many. I will not explain in details, but my current dream project would be to go in a foreign country and make something creative with a local community. I’m currently working on finding some real opportunities for this goal. I’m also going to focus on other projects in Belgium, including some big size creations mixing sculpture and traditional painting.
Thanks Ben for a wonderful interview and we hope your dream project works out as per your expectations. We wish you all the success in the future.
Ben Heine on Facebook
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