“Art” is a descriptive term. But as my father believed, the designation of “artist” was for others to apply to you, if they felt that you had attained a level of quality worthy of that title. I believe it’s the same with a work of art. Each of us has our own opinion, so, based on what we individually perceive to be art, we each determine if a work qualifies, whether it’s in music, dance, architecture, athletics ...whatever. For me, it is the summit. It’s when a work or a performance goes beyond the physical and takes us to an emotional place for which there are no words. I think that’s perhaps why some find art frustrating. It can’t be labelled, indexed and stored away neatly in your mind. It’s messy, confusing, loud, quiet, beautiful, ugly, shocking, etc. But it forces us to think, and occasionally, to think differently.

Mark Heine was born to a family of artists in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in 1961 and to be an artist. His childhood was spent wandering his father's massive warehouse studio, absorbing the progress and process of the monumental projects underway. It was art by the ton, measured in yards, not inches. There were always diverse skills in action, so Mark could watch and learn from sculptors, designers, architects and artisans working in plaster, resin, concrete, fibreglass, wood, stained glass, tapestry and, of course, paint.

In the early 1970s, Mark and his family moved to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where his father embarked on a career in fine art. Harry Heine, RSMA, CSMA, NWWS, FCA (1928-2004), would eventually become one of Canada’s most celebrated artists, culminating with his election to the Royal Society of Marine Artists in England, the only Canadian to ever have achieved such status.

Family holidays centered around all things art. Mark was six when he saw the Mona Lisa for the first time. His family and he toured and sketched the great cities of the world: Paris, London, Rome, Berlin, Vienna, Cairo, Athens, Beijing, Hong Kong and more, immersed in galleries, architecture and monuments. From the masters, they were learning the learnable – technique, colour, composition, and so on – but also developing the sensitivity to recognize the intangible, conceptual aspects that make the difference between a rendering and a work of art. As they got older, Mark's father, sister Caren and he, hosted and toured with groups of painting students to these destinations, demonstrating en plein air techniques. The river cruises were his favourite; they were up and down the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers so many times, they’ve lost count.

In his teens, Mark spent much of his time exploring the remote and unspoiled regions of Western Canada, much of which is accessible only by boat or seaplane, he was lucky enough to have access to both. His favorite activities were boating, ocean fishing, fly fishing and camping. He spent winter evenings inventing new fishing flies, carving lures and building new fishing rods in anticipation of spring. In his sporting life, Mark was also a competitive archer, and he participated in the Junior Olympic Program for many years.

Mark's passion for coastal exploration led to his first job at 15 as a salmon fishing guide during the summer months. At 16, his experience on the ocean led to a summertime contract with the Ministry of Environment’s Marine Resources Branch. He was part of a team that did hands-on environmental research in the field, collecting samples, taking measurements and making experimental studies on various aspects of the marine environment. Scientists processed the information and guided him in illustrating educational poster artwork for distribution to the schools.

At 17, in grade 12, he was awarded the Attorney General’s Art Scholarship, then graduated in 1983 with honors from the Applied Arts Program at Capilano University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Mark went on to have a long and successful freelance career in the applied arts. Working with agents around the world, he collected more than 40 national and international awards while working with clients such as Disney, Sony, Pepsi, Microsoft and many others. His artwork now circles the globe and is seen by millions on the 42 postage stamps he's been commissioned to paint for Canada Post and various other countries.

Following Mark's father’s example, in his 40s he made the shift to fine art. Experimentation in a variety of media and styles drew him towards oil, combining his passion for the unspoiled beauty of the coast with figurative painting, especially human interaction with the elements of nature; earth, wind, fire and water. His younger daughter Sarah became his favourite muse, and had a number of successful solo shows. Through that time, Mark started writing observations about what was in the paintings, and using the pieces as back labels. Writing soon became an integral component of his creative process.

As his experience with writing evolved, Mark came to the realization that he is a storyteller at heart. The story for him now, in words and paint, is the growing threat of global warming that is facing us all. When he writes, he visualizes the scene, which may not be unusual for a writer, but his experience with painting allows him the opportunity to translate that vision onto canvas, in order for his audience to perceive the visual he is working with in his imagination. While his writing inspires his painting, often a painted visualization will influence the direction of his writing. The combination and interplay of the two disciplines affords Mark a unique approach to both.

With the collaboration of his wife, Lisa Leighton, a professional editor and costume designer for stage and screen, Mark's first book is now close to completion, and he's also begun the outline and paintings for a sequel. Sirens is a work of fiction in the genre of magical realism, intended for young adults and beyond. Set in the present day and off the west coast of Vancouver Island, the story examines humankind’s ambiguous and destructive relationship with our natural world, as experienced by those who have the most at stake: the young. Along with the book, he has created a series of “Sirens” paintings that are visualizations of key moments in the story. Mark's hope is to harness the popularity of magical realism to help influence attitudes and encourage sustainable thinking and environmental stewardship. Ideally, he’d like to launch the release of the Sirens book with a travelling show of the paintings, many of which are life size or larger.

Mark and his wife live on Vancouver Island in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Their two grown children, Charlotte and Sarah, also live on Vancouver Island. Apart from painting and writing, Mark's passion now is sailing. The setting and mythology for Sirens grew out of many sailing trips to the rugged and remote west coast of Vancouver Island. In 2014, He crossed the Pacific Ocean in a 32-foot sailboat with a friend. They were 54 days at sea and travelled 6,450 miles of open ocean, equivalent to driving from L.A. to New York and back, plus another 800+ miles. Mark completed the outline for Sirens on this trip, visualizing an entire society beneath the surface and beyond the human experience, in a story that imagines ocean dwellers and land dwellers uniting with a common purpose. At night in mid-ocean, with 16,000 feet of water under the keel and 2,000 miles to the nearest shore, it’s seamless to descend below the surface and enter their nocturnal world where motion, phosphorescence and vibration are both ally and enemy.

Mark captures an almost translucent beauty in his mystical landscapes and skilfully diffuses the usually unmistakable lines between fantasy and reality. In the search to define said lines, our minds can be left to wander and question the protagonists in his pictures. Who are they? Why are they there? Is the world we see them in our own or have we stepped into theirs?

With elegance and sophistication, Mark invites us to question our eyes, not just while gazing upon the canvas, but long after having left it’s side.

Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it.?

A. At this time, my style is realistic, but my compositions are surreal. In the “Sirens” series, I’m attempting to illustrate a world of my imagination, that exists mostly below the surface of the sea, and realism is the most effective style. I face the typical challenges associated with traditional figure painting, such as body language and facial expression, costume, et cetera, but underwater there are many additional elements to consider. Broken light dances over the form, making every shape infinitely more complex. Suspended particulates in the water pick up reflected light from the figure, making highlights glow. The suspension of gravity allows for the figure to float and for sheer fabrics to undulate. Incredibly complex reflections appear under the mirror surface and colors change with depth. There are also many indications of motion to contend with: the motion of the figure, the dappled light across the subject, the flowing fabric and hair, bubbles, shafts of light, and so on, each moving at a different speed. These complexities are not hurdles, but tools. Once you understand how they work, they can be exaggerated and manipulated to accentuate the effect of the painting.

I’ve found that viewer reactions to the underwater paintings are often quite intense and personal, depending on an individual’s comfort level with water – even if the viewer is aware that these are aquatic beings inspired by mythology. Natural fears and even phobias have a way of finding their way to the surface.

Q. Tell us about some of the highlights of your artistic career?

A. In the past few years, my art has been guest-featured at galleries in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Nashville, where I’ve been showing with some of the most recognized artists in North America. I’m a resident artist of galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Denver, Colorado and Sidney, British Columbia. My work can also be found in galleries and collections throughout Europe, most recently in Ireland, Luxembourg, Spain and Liechtenstein. In 2019, I was also involved in two shows at the European Museum of Modern Art (MEAM), in Barcelona.

I’m an active member of the Art Renewal Center (ARC), which promotes realism and a return to traditional painting skills. A few years ago, their jury was kind enough to designate me an "Associate Living Master.”

ARC holds a competition each year. In 2019, the 14th International ARC Salon received 4,300 entries from 73 countries. I was selected, along with six others, for the Haynes Galleries Award. The prize was a group showing at the prestigious Haynes Galleries outside of Nashville, Tennessee, which continues as I write this (February 2020). My winning painting, entitled “Labyrinth,” is currently on display with those of the other winners of the Salon at a different show, at the European Museum of Modern Art (MEAM) in Barcelona, Spain. This show will return in the spring and be hosted by Sotheby’s in New York.

In the last few years, I’ve been featured in print and online in a number of publications, including Hi-Fructose Magazine, Beautiful Bizarre Magazine, Magazin’ Art, Applied Arts Magazine, American Art Collector Magazine, International Artist Magazine, The Guide Artist Magazine, Poets and Artists Magazine, The Artist’s Magazine, Ophelia Magazine, Preview Magazine, Miroir Magazine, Realism Today Magazine, ARS Magistris Magazine, Galleries West Magazine and Voyage Chicago. Notable blogs featuring my work have included My Modern Met, The Creators Project and Think.

Q. What role does the Artist/ Painter have in society?

A. In this society, we’re all drowning in language, both written and spoken, as it seems everything and everyone vies for our attention. Professional relationships, personal relationships, entertainment, news, and social media all coming at us as left-brain language. I think that art is a form of communication that can go beyond words and elicit emotions directly, without being summarized and filtered through language. That unique form of communication is a platform for the artist to express whatever he or she finds important or sees from a different perspective. Basically, it’s a soap box, framed and mounted on a wall. So, okay, you have my attention: what are you trying to tell me? If a piece of art doesn’t make me think, or think differently, I quickly lose interest.

Q. What’s your best childhood memory?

A. I don’t know if this is my best memory, but it’s still vivid, being nine years old with a big bag of firecrackers. At the time, we were living in a small and quite isolated beachfront cabin. My closest and best friend, Errol, lived 10 miles down the road, which was a day-long pilgrimage on my bicycle. I spent quite a bit of my time playing on the beach alone. I don’t know what possessed my parents, but they bought the family this big bag of firecrackers, which I was supposed to leave alone until Halloween night, still a few days away. But I just couldn’t wait, I opened all of the packages, separated the sets, and dumped them all loose into the paper bag. There were hundreds of them in all sizes, from the little red Lady Fingers to the big Atom Bombs. I snuck the bag down to the beach. I thought it would be fun to build a sand castle and blow it up with just a few firecrackers. Nobody was going to miss just a few, right? I built the castle, lit the first firecracker and crawled back. It went off with a bang, and a portion of that firecracker sailed through the air about eight feet and landed, yup, in the open bag. I dropped flat and shoved my head in the sand, for what seemed like ages, hundreds of exploding firecrackers rained down on me, scorching my hair and skin and burning holes in my clothes. It was loud and terrifying. When it was over, I scoured the beach, but found only four that hadn’t gone off. I can’t remember what the punishment was from my parents, but that event burned a hole in more than my memory.

Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?

A. Even though my earliest years were spent on the Prairies, nearly 800 miles from the nearest ocean, I got it in my head that I wanted to be a marine biologist. It’s weird, but that’s what I went around telling people: not a fireman or an astronaut like the other “normal” kids. Things obviously changed, but my interest in life below the surface never left me. That early interest was a catalyst that combined with my painting and writing to lead me to my Sirens books and current painting series.

Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?

A. At age 10, I was attending a two-room elementary school in a one-horse town called Bowser on Vancouver Island. Grades 1, 2 and 3 were in one room, with Grades 4, 5 and 6 in the other. Our teacher, looking to keep us busy, told us all that we were each to come up with a slogan and paint a poster to enter into a nationwide anti-drug poster contest. I took a 24”x36” sheet of black poster board and glued onto it a grave-marker–style cross cut from white paper. At the base of the cross I drew a marijuana plant with a green felt pen, growing from the ground. On the grave-marker cross bar, I carefully hand-lettered my slogan: “KEEP OFF THE GRASS.”

A few weeks later, another student told me that he’d heard my name on the radio. A week later came the letter. I won! I received a cheque for $50 too, which was big money for an eight year old in those days. I went on to enter many more poster contests in school and won a tidy sum of money and prizes over the years. My last poster was in Grade 12, a “Drinking Driving Counter Attack” poster, which won me the 1979 Attorney General’s Art Scholarship. I was taken to the Parliament Buildings in Victoria and officially presented to the sitting legislature by the Attorney General, who then took me for a fancy lunch. Turns out he was a fishing fanatic, and we had a long, enthusiastic conversation comparing fishing stories and tips. I turned him on to the guide’s favorite – the “Tomic #232” fishing plug – and told him how to modify it for maximum effect. Many years later, he became Agent General for British Columbia in London, England. My father was showing at the Tate Gallery with the Royal Society of Marine Artists and was invited to Canada House to meet the Agent General, who still remembered that fishy lunch we shared. His scholarship paid my tuition for years of art school.

Q. How and when did you first become seriously interested in art?

A. That’s an interesting question. Like I said, I was raised neck deep in it from birth. My grandfather was an artist, my father was an artist, and my mother was a designer. My older sister, Caren Heine, has been a professional floral artist for 40+ years. My younger sister, Jennifer, was a designer for years and is now a professional artist, painting mostly birds at this moment. So I don’t think there was a particular point for any of us.

Q. What does your art aim to express?

A. Social change happens over generations, but I believe that the human race does not have generations to waste. Pollution, global warming, fossil fuels, the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, plastics, overpopulation, unsustainable practices, and species extinction are all things we’ve ignored as we line our pockets with gold. Government policy needs to change to encourage investment in sustainability, and to actively punish those who behave without regard for the environment on which we all depend. The young adult audience for which my Sirens book is principally intended, will soon be of voting age. I’m hoping to contribute what I can to their moral compass, so that when they’re standing at the ballot box, they’ll choose a candidate who will stand up for sustainable policies and stand against corporate lobbyists and corruption.

Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?

A. I’ve been told that I overshare.

Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?

A. Probably a secure and restful retirement.

Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?

A. I’ve always believed that an artist’s personal style is an amalgam of influences experienced throughout his or her life. In that respect, there are too many for me to list, but those I’ve found particularly influential include Andrew Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Canadian artist Brian Johnson, and my father. Each one for his sense of dramatic composition, contrast, technique, and sense of surrealism.

Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?

A. I’m not fond of weekends, when I’m usually expected to emerge from my studio, into the daylight, to do household chores and interact with other members of my species. I consider it the height of luxury when a rainy Sunday cancels the lawn mowing, and I can skulk off to my studio and paint. I wouldn’t say lonely, I would call it solitary and I like it. I’m lucky that my wife is also a creative, so she understands that.

Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?

A. There’s my writing. I spend a lot of time working on and sailing the boat I partner on. I still like to fish when I get the chance, and I get together with friends on a regular basis to play darts. Family time is fun too, although it has of course evolved, as the girls have gotten older and developed their own lives.

Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?

A. I believe that artistic growth is directly bound to the challenge we undertake. The bigger the risk, the greater the reward. So how far from a straight line you’re willing to push yourself will determine how winding your creative road is. For me, story is what I use to navigate that road; stories rooted in both my imagination and my experience. They give me a reason to paint – a concept. They give the painting a reason to exist beyond the surface visual. Sometimes the journey is loud, long and nerve wracking, and sometimes it’s short and quiet, even tranquil. 

Q. What does 'success' mean to you?

A. Being able to do what I want and still make a living, but also recognition and having people interested in what I’m doing.

Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?

A. I think it’s important to get involved and care. It’s the difference between living and just surviving. The rhythm of the workweek and daily life makes it easy to get lured into a regime that requires little thinking outside the box. But I think, as denizens of this world we are obligated to stand up and get involved. To champion what we believe, to push for a better world for our children.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?

A. Years ago, my father’s friend and fellow artist Brian Johnson and I were talking over coffee. As usual, the conversation rolled around to what I was going to paint when I made the transition from illustrator to fine artist. Brian knew that I liked fishing and said to me, “What do you like best about fishing? What specific moments do you like when playing a big salmon?” I thought for a while, and said, “There’s a point when fighting a trophy fish and it’s close to the boat. You know it’s big from the fight, but just how big is the question. Looking down into the black water when the salmon turns on its side and the sunlight lights up it’s silver scales is like a camera flash – and you finally know how big it is. That’s a thrill.” Brian said, “There are lots of fishermen out there who probably thrill to that moment too, but have never really realized it or thought about it. If you paint that scene, it will strike a subconscious chord with other fishermen. The goal of that painting is the moment. The painting is only the vehicle used to feature that moment. Paint the truths you know.”

Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?

A. When I teach, I always tell that salmon story to my class. Take what you know, what you love, and paint it. Don’t get hung up on creating a work of “Art.” My father did preliminary studies for his paintings just small, crude, value, composition, color studies, never meant to be seen. They were always so charming, because they were unpretentious. I liked them as much and sometimes more than the finished painting. And he always called himself a painter, never an artist. He felt the term “artist” was a description you apply to someone else who has attained a certain level of expertise. Therefore, it was up to others to describe him as an artist if they felt him deserving.