Jeffrey Hein: Growth and Fulfillment
Born in Windsor, New York, Jeffrey Hein took his first drawing class when he was 17 at Ricks College under Gerald Griffin. After taking four years off to serve a mission and treatment for cancer, Hein resumed his studies in painting and drawing in Utah. In 2002, he dropped out of college to establish himself as a full-time artist. About six years later, he was feeling like he wasn’t being challenged enough mentally and concerned that he had plateaued in his growth. With a desire to be a better artist, he believed that to move to the next level he needed to make his work harder and more challenging. Hein says, “My end goal was to become a better artist, so I had to increase my weight mentally getting rid of anything that made it easier.” Hein’s prescribed solution was to let go of photography as a tool and to take some time to study the techniques of the Old Masters in depth. From 2008 to 2011 Hein stopped selling paintings in order to devote all of his time to retraining himself to paint “the old-fashion way.”
Not long after this sabbatical, after teaching a workshop in Houston, Hein visited the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Stopping at the Portrait of a Young Woman by Rembrandt, he remembers, “I was enthralled with the subtle rendering of form, the variety of hue and temperature in the skin, details in the clothing and hair, and the amazing illusion of depth that he was able to create.” But there something else about this work that moved Hein, it is what he describes as “the spirit of the model.” Hein says, “I imagined the many hours, centuries ago, that Rembrandt spent with this woman as he painted her. Perhaps during breaks they would discuss their personal lives, Rembrandt’s past or future projects, her life as an aristocrat, or maybe they discussed their families or the weather. I can imagine her peeking around the easel to see the progress and perhaps even making comments such as ‘is my nose really that big’ or ‘it’s interesting how you see me.’” This experience, and many others like it, have only solidified Hein’s dedication to working without photography. He wants his work to be a record of a direct interaction between him, the subject and the medium.
It was, in part, this new process of painting from life that drew former Mayor Ralph Becker to select Hein to paint his portrait as the 34th mayor of Salt Lake City. The painting, which will be unveiled this year, will hang in the Mayor’s Hall with the other mayoral portraits dating back to the city’s founder, Brigham Young.
Working with Becker over the past year, Hein developed a composition that depicts his commitment to the environment, his love of nature and the seriousness he brought to his office. Hein says, “I’ve never seen the mayor drive a car. He would show up on his bike, even if it was bitter cold, snowing or raining.” Hein even recounts that one day the mayor packed two suits and an array of ties in a huge backpack and rode them to Hein’s studio on his bike. So, incorporating the bike was important and represented Becker’s dedication to preserving the health of the environment. To give a nod to his love of nature but also his commitment to the city, Hein worked in a landscape and cityscape as well as flowering shrubs in the foreground. Finally, through his expression, Hein was able to portray the seriousness that Becker brought to his office.
All of these elements came together to create a painting that is one with the subject, portrayed through building a collective history between the artist, the work and the subject.
Mayor Ralph Becker, oil, 49¾ x 32½"