Cockeyed & cuddly 

I know artists don't keep bankers' hours, but the point is hammered home during a 3 a.m. chat session, seated Indian-style on a vintage Star Wars sleeping bag on the floor of Mark Heggie's home studio in Warren. We're surrounded by a cheerfully cockeyed set of new Heggie pieces, in various stages of completion, all featuring scenes of lively cuddly creatures with just a pinch of weirdness creeping around the edges. There are cigar-chomping penguins, dancing teeth and a pistol-packing songbird dubbed "the Birderer." Most of the works come complete with some form of playful or alterative title like "Limousine Loaded with Llamas Launching Loogies," or the maniacally smiling and buzzing insect known as "BumbleBMW."

Hints of these kooky critters have been loitering on sketchbook pages for years, but have only come alive in a recent two-week creative explosion. And they seem to be spawning relatives all the time, like the yet-to-be-produced concept Heggie excitedly describes as "a penguin in a giant cowboy hat lassoing an ice cream cone."

The pieces range from very small to movie-poster size, painted on ordinary sheets of plywood and then finished with an epoxy coating to give them a bright, glossy shine. The works are busy getting pretty for their close-up for Quaint Quandaries, Heggie's latest exhibition at the Majestic Café.

The show looks to be a departure for the industrious artist, whose previous area gallery displays tended toward the darker and more immediately visceral.

Emblematic of this macabre style was a massive wall hanger at last year's Tangent, Gallery's Parallel Lives show, one that featured ample amounts of human blood. Don't worry, there's an explanation: "I cut the tip of my finger off while I was framing it, with a table saw, which was awesome. I looked down and there was blood splattered everywhere and on the painting, so I said, 'Fuck it.'"

That "happy" accident is an apt expression of the sort of energy and personal passion that Heggie pours into his large-scale works, a style he describes as "creepy figurative paintings." They incorporate Asian themes, Day of the Dead imagery, fairy tale monsters and so on. Such spleen-cleansing exercises might be good for the soul but rarely do they pay the bills, and they eat up a lot of time, two problems addressed by his new, friendlier style. The bubbly stuff is simply easier, moving from sketch to finished painting in a matter of hours, and it seems to tickle the more childlike portions of Mark's brain in gratifying ways.

It also helps that they sell.

Noticing that a small series of paintings featuring, of all things, pigs, flew off the walls at a recent show, Heggie says he began cooking up more bubbly confections. "People just love them," he says.

Heggie is unapologetic about his commercial prospects, an instinct sometimes viewed as unseemly in art circles. He's consistently looking for ways to market his work: From album art to stickers and T-shirts to licensed products — any way to get his stuff out there is a good way. He's also used to giving people what they want; as a much in-demand tattoo artist, he's used to translating other people's ideas into wearable masterpieces. Body art is consuming more and more of his time these days, and leading him to convention appearances in Philly, Portland, San Francisco and Puerto Rico. But as satisfying as the travel can be, Heggie calls the Detroit area home because the market needs talented people: Particularly if they're as ambitious and prolific as Mark Heggie.


Opening reception is 8-11 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 11, at the Majestic Café, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700.

Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to

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