My journey of discovery of the truth of acclaimed artist Jeff Hein finds my climactic realization being my introduction into his artistic reality. It is a climax that I had not expected, but reaches my sensibilities on a level of brotherly love, of respect, of appreciation, of an enduring friendship I miss, of a man so good to me at a time in life so hard, a man so good he was to look past my faults to see the true me, a man I trusted, a great example, a man I loved and I love, and a forever friend, who is brought to life as all of these sensibilities are thusly brought to life in me. I see a side to this man, the full embodiment that is not made visual in his reticence, a humor, a personality so unique that one cannot see but Hein captures it visually, so I can see the fullness and respond to this reality of my good friend of 9 years, Hein’s own brother, and my once best friend Kevin, whom I love so much, in a portrait I love so much, a portrait untitled but one I am sure must simply be called, “Kevin.”
Kevin, now a successful lawyer in New England, always wore a smile, always the vision of courtesy and humility, always the friend I knew I could go to for any advice, even that which he knew were my personal struggles as he struggled with me. He is so intelligent one can see this so he has a look of intelligence, one not of the ordinary but one slightly, well, nerdy, and I myself, being a true blue nerd, was close as brothers with Kevin. I never got to know Jeff, but since watching his live painting demonstration and interview with Doug Fabrizio at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts hosted by Williams Fine Art last evening, I got to know Jeff for more than and chance I had ever had an opportunity to get close to him. I don’t know when I have ever been so impressed with any artist and their clarity, sincerity, honesty, and above all things, a touching humility at the way he understood his art. I am confident some way some how I will have the pleasure of getting to know Jeff in the future.
One way I might describe this portrait of my once best friend is how I might see him in heaven, his personality, his intelligence, his intensity, his reality, transfigured and made fully manifest. The back ground is azure blue, very ethereal, but only painted to the base of Kevin’s neck, cut short, the border line of paint and raw canvas is left with strokes coarse and choppy. Kevin’s head, all we see of him, is directly frontal and focused forward. The face and its qualities are not exactly smooth, they are painted with an energy and with a will as if Jeff is in challenge with art to meet it in battle and attack it head on, and Jeff is victorious. He is, ubiquitously.
Kevin’s hair is as I remember yet as if he has been out in the world and lived it fully, as he does, it has more of an essence to it, there is more depth. His lips are pursed. And this gives his face much of its unequivocal characteristic that any friend of Kevin’s is excited to see. Kevin too, in this painting, is victor. But the final impact is made by the artistic decisions Jeff makes with Kevin’s eyes. He is wearing black framed glasses with squared elongated rims with a yellowed tint that gives Kevin an edginess, something very nice to see, but what is even nicer is what lies behind the yellow, being slightly abstracted by this tint. This brings the entire composition together in the eyes, made darker by the tint, with a look of pure intensity. This is made so by a compendium of all qualities I mention above that touch upon myriad sensibilities made so by this canvas and these decisions. Of course, I have never seen Kevin’s eyes look thus, but in the abstract, this is a transfigured Kevin, which those in tune with canvas, those in tune and love Kevin, are left in a bewildered state of wonderment and joy of their beloved friend, brother, son, and husband, the fully manifest Kevin.
As I wander an image gallery, I am awed by what I might call a parade of humanity. It is nothing like any other Utah artist’s oeuvre and reaches to the souls of so many human spirits that one might sit indeterminately looking at these images in bewilderment at the breadth, scope, and depth of what is being suggested.
In last night’s interview, Hein stated, “I think it is recognizing what makes things beautiful that that makes them beautiful.” Apparently, Hein has a vast inner vision, as so many of his subjects are not conventionally beautiful on the exterior, but Hein’s treatment of them illuminates a beauty that is undeniably touched by the hand of God.
“Joanne,” painted in 2011, is not a beauty queen. But it is apparent that Hein has recognized just what it is that makes her beautiful, that makes her beautiful in his vision and illuminates the beauty to a sensitive audience. Joanne is perhaps in her early 80’s. She has silver white hair that falls in streams of lovely breezily rendered strokes around her ears and to her eyes she has most likely not given any cosmetic attention to it in over 20 years. We see her head and her shoulders and a back ground that is a cool gray-blue that sets much of the tone for the piece, crudely brushed. From her poise we see she is slightly slumped. There is certain sag to her head, and she wears the robe of a mental institution, in whites and silvers, very much in the manner of John Singer Sergeant- most of Hein’s best portraits have this painterly expressiveness mingled with clarity.
What is never sentimental but reaches deep and again, deep so that the viewer’s sensibilities are touched in myriad ways, are her eyes, speaking volumes. It is life of pain she has had to live. She has suffered much and still suffers and she suffers well. There is nothing in her that brings the viewer to pity; only a very shallow viewer would see that. Most sensitive viewers with be in tune with Hein’s methodology and the painterly expressiveness on the canvas and recognize the human condition manifest to an acute degree in her eyes and see beauty in her struggles, see beauty in her endurance, see beauty in the very fact that she still holds on, clings to life even though it has been such a hard one, and this, is a recognition of the truth of humanist beauty par excellence.
In last night’s event, Hein made an evocative statement about his productivity. He said, “I think I move faster than my clients like.” Hein may see this a pejorative, but considering his oeuvre, this quite authenticates my claim of he being a visionary of humanity. Without what I see to be a most marvelous array of approaches and methodologies to understanding the human condition one subject at a time, how better to be authentic- our world is anything but homogenous. Our world is replete with energy and color, diversity and dimension, vividness and vitality- such is the art of Jeff Hein. And looking through albums of his work, one becomes startlingly amazed at the literal manifestation of this. This is a parade of humanity
Finally, Hein states, “The way I express my creativity is to constantly reinvent myself.” This is a wondrous thing, for us, the lucky viewers, who are able to benefit from this. One personally preferred paintings and a marvelous reinvention is “Repetition.” This is an incredible composition of dimension, breadth and scope, and is existential in philosophy and can be understood and responded to in myriad ways. A most articulate way to approach it understandingly is a woman and her relationship to herself, her being made manifest as not one distinct identity but a reality of limitless aspects to her being. The painting presents a contemporary woman, dressed casually stylish, seemingly very comfortable with her self, with out insecurities, from appearances a successful woman, but a very human woman nonetheless. And like all of humanity, life is not one constant of reality but is and amalgam of shifts and changes, transitions and developments, and Hein articulates this conceptually in a manner that is chic, stylized, crisp, inventive, and provocative.
My weekend of Jeff Hein education has proved enlightening and joyful and my responsiveness from this experience is gratitude that we have Hein as a strengthening asset to the fine art community of SLC. If ever one is in a state of insecurity and unease with life, pour over an album of Hein’s work and consider each thoughtfully and sensitively. One just might find you have all of a sudden developed an attitude of gratitude to be a part of the human condition.