Cocoa canvas: Ben Heine on mixing chocolate with art

Every year, Harbour City turns into a life-sized chocolate dream for its annual Chocolate Trail event, bringing in chocolate from all over the world with fun and interesting art exhibitions. Now in its sixth edition, the Chocolate Trail organisers have enlisted Ben Heine, a mixed media artist from Belgium, to create special chocolate-themed art and showcase his new exhibition entitled “From Cocoa to Choco – Taking You Though the Journey of Love.”

Now showing at Gallery by the Harbour, Heine’s exhibition is based on his well-known work from “Pencil vs Camera” and blurs the lines between photography and painting. We caught up with him at Harbour City to find out more about his transition from political cartoonist to mixed media artist, his creative process and unabiding love for dark chocolate.

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Heine is self-taught in drawing and photography.

LifestyleAsia (LSA): How did the “Pencil vs Camera” project first come about?

Ben Heine (BH): The series started in April 2010. I had been drawing and taking photos separately for many years before that, but in 2010, I decided I would combine my creative skills together. Holding a sketch in my hand was the most natural way to do that. This series has evolved a lot through the years, and the drawings have become more refined. It was a completely new art form at the time and it generated a lot of buzz in the press.

LSA: Walk us through your creative process. What inspires you?

BH: I need to live and fill my creative well to be able to find good ideas. An artist has to experience emotions first before sharing them with the world. I am inspired by nature, animals, people around me, architecture and cities. I create these images by going to a place, doing a quick sketch, and then taking a photo. I do all the edits and adjustments later.

LSA: We heard that you used to be a political cartoonist. What made you change fields?

BH: Yes, this was merely the influence of my Journalism studies. At the time, I had some professors with strong political opinions, and I was very young and easily influenced. Fortunately, I quickly realised that political art was not for me. I really believe artists should stick to art and use their talents for creative purposes only. There are politicians elected and paid to do politics.

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Heine with his chocolate art installation at Harbour City.

LSA: You’ve had exhibitions and art fairs all over the world. Which city is your favourite?

BH: For some reason, I really enjoyed Bucharest in Romania. I expected it to be a cold and random eastern European city but it was actually one of the most exciting places I have ever visited, because people there are very friendly and the monuments are beautiful.

LSA: Is this your first time working with chocolate as a medium? How has the process been different?

BH: Yes, this is the first time I am doing an art project with chocolate so it is very exciting. It is actually very similar to my other tools of expression.

LSA: How do you like your chocolate?

BH: As dark as possible. I even like to enjoy it right from the cocoa beans — it’s delicious simply roasted.

The Harbour City Chocolate Trail runs from now until 1 March 2015 with 10 pop-up chocolate stores from around the world and special chocolate-themed installations. For more information, visit www.harbourcity.com.hk.