Change of life
Mark Heine has given up a successful career as a commercial artist to follow in his father’s footsteps
ON EXHIBIT What: At Play, art exhibition and fundraiser Where: The Avenue Gallery, 2184 Oak Bay Ave. When: Preview Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30. Sale starts Sunday, noon to 4 p.m., with artist talk at 1 p.m. Show continues to June 21.
Times Colonist Mark Heine used to paint Pepsi cans weeping with condensation, airplanes and hot cars, animation backgrounds for Disney computer games, underwater scenes, and aerial views of cities and ski mountains.
The graphic artist even painted a version of the Last Supper once, for a pesticide company that wanted to hit home the message about its lethal product line.
“It was the worst thing I was ever asked to do and it turned out to be pretty controversial,” recalled the artist this week with a grimace. “The client wanted me to paint everyone in the same gestural poses as Da Vinci’s work — except all the Apostles and Jesus were cockroaches, caterpillars and ants.
“I was raised a Catholic, but at the same time I think God has a sense of humour ... so I did it. It appeared in a gardening magazine and the advertising company got lots of complaints. The magazine even got a letter from the archbishop of Toronto, but I also won a whole bunch of awards, including best illustration in advertising for the year.”
Heine has stopped doing commercial work, partly because of the eye strain it causes when toiling in such detail, but also because he wants to create his own vision now. And his new work is being unveiled this weekend at The Avenue Gallery. He is combining the show with a fundraiser for the Queen Alexandra Foundation, where his 12-year-olddaughter Charlotte has received care for many years.
The son of West Coast artist Harry Heine, who died in 2004, Mark decided to follow in his father’s footsteps in mid-life and launched a fine-art career. But the young Heine is working in oils, not water colours, and has said goodbye to realism and hello to an impressionistic style.
“I was always known as a hyper-realist in illustration,” said Heine, 47. “So when I started painting I wanted to loosen up and just splash away.”
Commercial work is excellent training, he was quick to add, because an artist paints everything from cars and ferries, to people, insects, insides of buildings and the great outdoors. “You learn not to be afraid of anything. It’s a discipline, with deadlines and in time, you end up being good and occasionally brilliant.”
He once spent three weeks working for a beer company, creating a 12-pack that looked like a block of ice with beer inside.
“I took a beer can and froze it into a block of ice and studied it. All I had to work with was distortion, bubbles, cracks, glaze, reflections of light, condensation, water droplets. A water droplet is one of the most difficult things to paint because it’s clear, but it also magnifies what comes through it, like a lens. When you look at a droplet, the highlights are what draw you in, but the shadows are what hold you there.”
Now that he is creating his own images, Heine is enjoying the freedom and adventure.
“For years I had to draw exactly what I saw, not what I thought I saw. I had to remove the mind, the perceptions, my familiarity with a subject.” Now all that is reversed and he is working with impressions, emotion, intuition. His current series, called At Play, uses his children as the focus and features brilliant colour and sweeping brush strokes to reflect the happiness of childhood.
Heine admits he never intended to become an artist. Growing up in Brentwood Bay, he spent most of his time guiding anglers.
In Grade 12 he won the lieutenant-governor’s art scholarship to Capilano College “which really surprised Dad,” and soon after developed a lucrative freelance business with clients as diverse as Microsoft, McDonald’s, Disney, Motorola, Intel, Starbucks and Hewlett Packard. He won numerous national and international awards and “I had agents in Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York and Tokyo.”
He decided to launch his art career with a fundraiser for the Queen Alexandra because his daughter was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and has received care there. “Charlotte has been in a wheelchair her whole life, and will remain there unless something special comes up. I wanted to give something back because without QA’s help we would have been lost.”
Gallery owner Heather Wheeler said she was “overwhelmed” when she first saw Heine’s new work four months ago at Winchester Galleries. “It’s from the heart, and wonderful how he has evolved to be so free and paint with such passion. People who see his work are head over heels.”
Proceeds from the sale of his painting Siblings, as well as a percentage of proceeds from all his other works, will be donated to the Queen Alexandra. Prints of Siblings are also for sale, with all proceeds to the foundation. His work can be seen at the gallery website www.theavenuegallery.com