Mark Heine, worked for 32 years as an artist and may have just painted his most compelling work to date. And it’s not just one painting, but a whole series of them coupled with an original story about evolution, the environment, and some creatures we were sure didn’t exist.
With his use of magical realism and his work in carrying on the mythology of Homer’s classic work The Odyssey, Heine has certainly showed a lot of ambition with his new series, Sirens.
The series follows two sirens, Sarah and Aerica, as they are forced apart and forced to evolve in a narrative intended to run parallel to the ongoing story of how we as humans relate to the natural world.
Between Heine’s realistic depictions of the sirens and their distress at being stuck in their respective scenes, Sirens will leave a haunting impression on anyone who experiences it.
Here, we see Sarah trying to escape an ocean that has turned against her. Heine often places his sirens just close enough to the surface to be disturbingly far away. Here Sarah’s body language is key to showing the level of dread in the scene.
Aerica’s changes have forced the ocean to cast her out, never to return. She feels lonely without Sarah, but doesn’t want to doom her to the same fate. While this scene doesn’t have the same kind of tension as many of the Sirens paintings, the close framing captures Aerica’s sadness and feelings of isolation.
Sarah finds herself descending to the ruling council of their home, Beckoning Rock, to plead for permission to bring Aerica back under the sea. Here the tension lies less in being so close to the surface and more in Sarah’s desperation to reunite with her sister.
Sarah can’t bear to join Aerica on land, but the taboo of land-dwelling still fascinates her—and her contact with Aerica here represents her flirtation with the idea. Any resemblance to Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam is quite intentional, as evolution in this context is akin to the creation of new life. It’s certainly true that the evolved Aerica will now have to live anew.
In this scene, Sarah is moving to meet with Aerica in secret. Since Aerica is supposed to serve as her alibi, this likely takes place before she took to the land. The bubbles and veil add a sinister kind of mystery to this painting.
Heine is ominously vague here. All we know is that Sarah has lost her anonymity and “death is only moments away.” He also obscures Sarah’s face—and what, exactly, she’s looking at—making the situation even more eerie.
This is the point where Aerica begins to leave the ocean. The story frames her first steps onto land through the perspective of Charlotte, a human witnessing them. This painting conveys the anticipation in the air before Aerica finally breaks the surface.
Sarah is convinced she’s found a way to get Aerica a pardon from the Beckoning Rock council. Yet note her look of contemplation and inner turmoil. What she has in mind won’t make the council very happy.
Here, Sarah’s distressed bubbling represents her guilty conscience. She feels responsible because her stories of the forbidden surface world are what drove Aerica to explore it in the first place.
This scene serves to reiterate that Sarah and Aerica broke the covenant of their people by trespassing to the surface. Here, Sarah goes on a solemn journey to beg the council of Beckoning Rock to lift Aerica’s banishment.
Here we find Sarah bowing her head in contemplation. To save her sister, she knows she’ll have to betray her covenant yet again.
We find a relaxing scene here, but it takes on a cautionary subtext now that we know more about how the story unfolds. It’s Aerica’s 13th birthday and Sarah has promised to take her to the beach when she’s older. This promise is what prompts Aerica to trespass to the surface and break her people’s covenant.
This takes place right after Aerica’s banishment. Sarah’s face is obscured to convey her despair at the consequences of her actions and her shame for her role in her sister’s predicament.
The description seems deceptively innocent. Aerica wants to play hide and seek. But in this scene, it’s just becoming clear to Sarah what exactly Aerica means by that—and what it will mean for both of them if she plays along.
15. Sea Sprite
While Sarah pleads to the Beckoning Rock council, Aerica sits in lonely darkness. Unaware of her sister’s actions, she keeps calling out to her. While she waits for a response, Aerica shivers in the freezing Pacific Ocean.
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