Rancho Santa Fe artist wins Levin’s Congressional Art Competition

Ethan Heck with Congressman Mike Levin.
(Matthew Heck)

Rancho Santa Fe’s Ethan Heck, an 18-year-old senior in Pacific Ridge School’s class of 2023, was named the winner of Representative Mike Levin’s Congressional Art Competition. His artwork, “Churn”, will hang at the capitol in Washington D.C. for a year, representing the 49th District.

Heck’s piece portrays a cluttered ocean scene, filled with sea creatures, evoking the energy and flow of the waves. The images are inspired by Heck’s experience as a free diver. He dives almost every weekend, crawling along the bottom, discovering hidden underwater life: “I see things under the water that many people don’t.”

This year, the panel of judges in Levin’s competition included Maria Mingalone of the Oceanside Museum of Art; Zach Cordner, creative director of “The Osider Magazine”; and Claire Kavaya, artist and owner of the Side Street Art Studio in San Clemente. Thirty-two pieces of art honored in this year’s contest were displayed for a month at the Oceanside Museum of Art but only Heck’s will go to the capitol.

Winning the competition came as a complete surprise to Heck, a R. Roger Rowe School alum who is headed to Pepperdine University in the fall.

Ethan Heck
(Matthew Heck)

“The only notion that I had ever given myself that I would win was I knew my audience and what would be appealing. I worked hard with that to make it my own as well as the notion that it would be very entertaining to get a fish with human teeth in the halls of Congress,” Heck wrote in a dispatch from Singapore, where he is on a school trip. “I was in absolute shock when I won, I have never won an art competition, the closest I had come was getting second in a Carlsbad art contest. I was just happy to be accepted into the show to be honest.”

Heck is interested in a lot of different arts and art styles. He draws inspiration from metal art, nature, traditional Asian art styles and Junji Ito, a Japanese horror manga artist.

“As someone who lives with autism and ADHD, art is a way to express my emotions and words in a way that I struggle with,” Heck said. “Despite being diagnosed with dyspraxia, which is a disorder that affects motor skills and hand-eye coordination, I loved to draw as a kid and by first and second grade I was starting to hone my skills and overcome my disability just by doing what I loved.”

He said the art teachers at his school have been huge inspirations and great instructors that helped him grow in his skills. He started as a pencil artist but most of his art now is in micron pen and lacks color— although his winning piece portrays his “widened medium”, exploding in color.

Ethan Heck's "Churn"
(Matthew Heck)

Heck spent 50 hours creating the surrealist “Churn”.

“All of the animals that are in ‘Churn’ at some point can be found in California and are purposefully clustered together to make it hard for the eye to focus,” Heck said. “This allowed me to have some fun with it. 50 hours is a long time to be drawing for anyone… I used the cluttered nature of the composition to add in funny little details such as adding human teeth to fish, a metal style shell to the hermit crab, or boxing gloves to the California mantis shrimp.”

In addition to art and diving, Heck is also a writer (he recently published a book) and a runner. He is very interested in marine biology and herpetology, which he is excited to study at Pepperdine.