The artist Mark Heine creates postage stamps for a postage-stamp-sized nation.
Earlier this week, Mr. Heine completed the sixth of a dozen paintings featuring antique automobiles commissioned by postal officials in the landlocked European principality of Liechtenstein.
In May, Canada Post released a stamp featuring a Heine painting to commemorate the bicentennial of the founding of the Red River colony by Lord Selkirk on the site of the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers.
The tiny stamp shows nine characters, three tepees and a Red River cart. The figures are local actors (including the artist’s girlfriend) who gathered at Langham Court Theatre to pose in period costumes. They dressed as trappers, Métis, Scottish settlers and coureur de bois.
Mr. Heine’s paintings have been displayed in one-man shows at art galleries and his earlier work as a commercial illustrator won several awards. None ever got as wide a distribution as the paintings created in the studio of his Victoria home later reproduced on postage stamps.
A successful artist might release a limited-edition print with a run in the hundreds, or, perhaps, the thousands. The Selkirk stamp alone has a print run of 1.2 million.
As an art work, it is inexpensive, costing just 61 cents. Plus, it also covers the cost of sending a note from V8R (Victoria) to R3C (Winnipeg).
Even folks who do not get fine art can appreciate the pop-culture significance of having a painting reproduced in miniature on a postage stamp.
“It’s a thrill,” Mr. Heine said. “Very few [artworks] get spread so widely. People who aren’t interested in your work, or your painting, get a kick out of sending a letter with your stamp on it.”
Mr. Heine, 51, hails from a well-known family of Victoria artists. His late father, Harry Heine, was the first Canadian elected to the Royal Society of Marine Artists. His works hang in the B.C. Legislature and in many museums. All three Heine children also established careers in fine and commercial art. One of Mark’s sisters, Caren Heine, of Fort McMurray, Alta., has had designs issued by the Royal Canadian Mint, including a Pacific dogwood used on a limited-edition gold coin.
After winning a scholarship to Capilano College (now University) in North Vancouver, the younger Mr. Heine became a graphic artist. His clients ranged from Disney to Nintendo to Starbucks. One of the lesser accounts involved an insecticide for which he produced an illustration depicting the Last Supper populated by bugs and cockroaches.
His art is shrunken to fit on a postage stamp. It has also been blown up to decorate the side of a ship.
He produced three different cougar designs for use on the hulls of the PacifiCat fast ferries. The huge images were reproduced on a special, lighter-than-paint adhesive vinyl. An application was made to the Guinness World Records for recognition of the largest stickers in the world. Alas, the ferries hit rough waters and the scandal overshadowed any appreciation for the artwork on the side.
In 2006, he worked with others on a pair of Canada Post stamps depicting a speed skater and a skeleton racer. These were released to mark the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. The stamps won a major prize from the International Olympic Committee, which attracted the attention of philatelic authorities in Liechtenstein. The Alpine nation’s policy is to commission stamps from artists in the host country of each Olympics.
“I got a contact from the postmaster of Liechtenstein,” he said. “When you receive one of those e-mails, your reaction is, ‘Yeah, right.’ Someone in Nairobi wants money.”
On the occasion of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the tiny nation released stamps featuring his vibrant and dynamic paintings of a downhill skier and a cross-country skier.
The artist has yet to travel to the principality, nestled between Austria and Switzerland. He has a standing invitation to visit the main post office in the capital city of Vaduz, where his Olympic paintings have been framed and placed on display. (If he does visit, he might be surprised by the country’s national anthem, High Above the Young Rhine , which uses the tune of God Save the Queen .)
With a population of only about 37,000 Liechtensteiners in a country occupying half the area of suburban Surrey, the mountainous principality’s robust philatelic program is aimed at foreign collectors. The post office promotes artists. Mr. Heine was surprised to see his name prominently displayed on the stamps.
“They put my name almost as big as Liechtenstein,” he marvelled. “I think the layman looking at the stamp is going to wonder who Mark Heine is. Maybe he’s the ruler of Liechtenstein.”
That’s a big honour for an artist whose work is reproduced in vast numbers on the smallest of canvases.