Jacob Dhein Paintings: Sketches from the Book of Life

An Interview with the Painter

The Pattern Maker, Painting by Jacob Dhein

Through his paintings, Jacob Dhein tries to illustrate the greatest book ever written, The Omnibus of Life. He even includes himself in this exhaustive series, The Artist and the Model.

By empathetically portraying the everyday lives of artists, craftsmen and workmen Jacob Dhein not only proves himself capable of creating a masterful composition but also showcases that emotional sensibility which underlies any great work of art.

By making the verve, vitality and woes of common men’s lives his subject he also queued himself up behind a long and illustrious line of artists that consists such names as Giovanni Battista Moroni, Adriaen van Ostade, Jan Steen, Jean–François Millet and Camille Pissaro.

Jacob Dhein graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 2006. His work has received applauds from both critics and art aficionados in a very short period of time. In 2013 alone his work has been exhibited at a number of galleries including Salon International, Greenhouse Gallery, San Antonio, TX, Plein Air Group Show, Christian Daniels Gallery, San Francisco, CA and OPA Western Regional, South Wind Art Gallery, Topeka, KS. His work is an affirmation to the famous words of William Wordsworth, ‘The eye it cannot chuse but see / We cannot bid the ear be still / Our bodies feel, where’er they be / Against, or with our will.’

Tell us of the childhood influences at home and in your immediate environment which helped in grooming the artist and human being that you have grown up to become.

My family is my biggest Childhood influence. My father helped me draw at a very early age. I remember having a fascination with dinosaurs and prehistoric animals. My dad helped me transfer the pictures to paper so I could enlarge and colour them. My aunt was another big factor. When visiting my aunt and uncle in San Francisco for the summers they enrolled me in art classes at the museum. My grandmother and great aunt were painters. Seeing their paintings hanging on the walls of my house and my extended family’s homes also help me develop a love for the textures and colours of oil paint. I remember being amazed as a small child and touched the paintings to feel the textures of the impasto paint. Lastly, my biggest supporter is my mother who always pushed me to pursue a direction in the art by constantly encouraging me and buying me art books throughout my life.

How did you utilise the time spent between your BFA studies and your transition to full-time painting to develop yourself further as an artist?

After my BFA I worked full time as a bartender and did portrait commissions on the side. After a while my family persuaded me to quit my job and pursue a career relating to art. I found a job at a cultural centre teaching still life painting and figure drawing/painting. I also gave the occasional plein air workshop. After a year of this, I felt my work was lacking something. I decided to explore the MFA program at the Academy of Art.

The Shoe Cobbler, Painting by Jacob Dhein
The Shoe Cobbler

You seem to be fascinated with craftsmen or women busy at their work in rapt attention. How were you first drawn to this subject? Is there any learning from exploring this topic and also by watching others intently busy with the work at the hand?

Growing up around artist and craftsmen is the underlying inspiration and fascination of this subject matter. Initially, I did not think about why this subject matter interested me so much. A couple of years ago, whenever I walked down Haight Street in San Francisco, I always glanced into a doorway of a shoe repair shop and thought to myself that this would make an incredible painting. After numerous times of seeing this little shoe repair shop I decided to talk with the proprietor about doing a painting of him. So after receiving his permission, I worked with the gentleman and did my first artisan and craftsmen painting Haight Street Shoe Repair.

I don’t know if there is learning on a technicality standpoint from watching others busy at their craft, but there is inspiration seeing that others work so diligently at their jobs even though they may not be making a large salary. It is great to see people who love what they do even though there is a struggle sometimes to stay afloat in a society where technological advances in the industry allow machines to mass produce products and goods at a much lower cost. For example with the shoe repairman some people I sure find it easier to buy a new pair of shoes or boots rather than making the effort to have them fixed.

While delving into the character during figurative or portrait paintings do you look forward to any particular expression or like depicting the playfulness of emotions over a period of time? For a chronicler of life how important is it to peep into the soul of a subject?

When I do a figurative painting of people in their trade I try to depict the truth, or how they actually look as they work. As for portrait sketches which are done from life, there are many factors which decide how the subject will be rendered. Many of these factors which include colour choices, paint thickness, composition, and style depend on my state of mind at that particular time. Other factors include whether I know the person or not. Knowing the sitter affects how the painting will progress because not only do I have a visual representation of the person, but there is also a mental image because of emotional factors.

How amazed as an artist do you feel while capturing the changing colours of nature in many of your plein air paintings? Does translating the voice of the city on canvas make you take a note of certain ubiquitous moments that you would have otherwise missed?

It is an amazing feeling to capture a snapshot in time through your own eyes. Developing a window that starts with a two-dimensional surface into a scene with three dimensions that address value, sfumato, and colour in a couple of hours gives an amazing sense of gratification. There are so many outside and inside factors that affect the outcome of these sorts of sketches, such as temperature, wind, noise (especially in the city or by the ocean, or even by waterfalls). I think if a person uses photographs solely they may lose touch with all the movement and colour changes that occur naturally.

Professor Longfellow, Painting by Jacob Dhein
Professor Longfellow

From or beyond the world of art whom do you consider to be your biggest source inspiration? As an artist what has been your greatest learning so far?

If I had to pick one artist it would be Richard Schmid. Ever since I was introduced to his book, Alla Prima, in my undergrad years I have always admired him for his contributions to his fellow artists. His writings and videos are always a joy to read and watch. There are many artists that interest me, but for some reason throughout the years, I always seem to veer back to being inspired by his paintings and writings. I believe because of his shared wealth of knowledge he has inspired a new generation of expressive realism with working from life as an underlying foundation. I think in the last thirty years there has been an explosion of representational artists that paint figuratively and landscape/plein air making a living. I think part of their success is due to the writings and teachings of Ricard Schmid that help raise the bar.

Jacob Dhein in his studio

Jacob Dhein enjoys…

Jacob loves strolling on the streets of Italy, the finest art museum! He loves watching Heat whenever he manages time but his taste in music keeps changing. It is difficult to force him to stay away from a nice slice of warm pizza.

Find more of his work at his website.

Image Courtesy: Jacob Dhein