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Webster’s defines sirens as female hybrids who lure mariners to shipwrecks through their singing.
These mythical Greek creatures have haunted the artist Mark Heine for seven years.
The painter, who is based in Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, has produced a series of works based on his own version of the creatures most famously portrayed in Homer’s “Odyssey.” Combining realism with surrealism, the paintings are on view at Santa Fe’s Keep Contemporary.
The idea germinated during Heine’s own sailing odysseyW from Victoria to Hawaii, a distance of 6,400 miles and 54 days at sea. During that trip, he passed by the Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of marine debris sprawling twice the size of Texas and three times the breadth of France.
“Young people are so bombarded by climate change figures and facts,” Heine said. “I’m trying to write a story to encourage sustainability for young people without hitting them over the head with it.
“It’s kind of like Harry Potter meets Richard Attenborough,” he added.
The paintings illustrate Heine’s yet-to-be-published book “Sirens” and a planned sequel. Grounded in magical realism, it stars a hidden world beneath the ocean. In the paintings, that suspension of gravity allows for the figure to float while sheer fabrics to undulate. Complex reflections appear under the mirror surface and colors change with depth.
Heine’s sirens are heroines with no thoughts of harming sailors.
The oil-on-canvas “Labyrinth” shows a siren and a half-bull, half-man minotaur living in a kelp forest.
“He’s shunned because he’s ugly, but he’s a good soul,” Heine said. “He saves the lead character from drowning.”
The artist uses models – one his daughter and muse Sarah – and photographs them in a nearby lake to form his compositions.
Heine jigsawed “Salish Zephyr” from six photos. It depicts the origin story of sirens. Homer made them famous, but scientists have discovered tomb images predating the Greek author by 5,000 years. One shows a winged creature with the legs of a bird. The painting reveals Homer’s more destructive version as misguided as the woman beams from a rocky shoreline.
Heine painted “The Pollinators’” as an ode to bees.
“In China, manufacturers are hiring children to climb into trees and pollinate them because there are no more bees,” Heine maintained.
Writing has been a key component of his creative process and he has come to realize he is a storyteller. Marrying fiction to painting is the focus of the book “Sirens,” still in the editing process. Set in the present day 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.
The son of two artists, Heine has spent 39 years as a professional artist, the first 25 years as an illustrator working in advertising, posters and book covers. As a child, he and his family toured and sketched the great cities of the world, immersed in galleries and architecture. His work can be found in galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Nashville, Philadelphia, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver. It also hangs in the European Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona, and he boasts corporate commissions from the likes of Disney, Sony, Starbucks and more.