Geoffrey Stein studied product design at Parsons. Terrified of not getting a job, he pivoted to a sociology major at Bard College.
Walking around cold, rainy mid-1980s New York City — unemployed — he took stock. He didn’t have enough science courses for medical school. He didn’t have enough math for business school.
So, since Bard had taught him to think critically and analytically …
…. in 1986 he graduate from Albany Law School.
Stein clerked for an appellate judge. He worked at a trial firm. He got into reinsurance litigation, in London.
He found that aspect of law fascinating. “You have to get the right answer, but you do it in a civilized way,” he describes reinsurance.
These days, Stein is …
… a “recovering lawyer.”
All along, he’d made art. He carved wood, built things, welded metal sculptures and took photos.
He kept looking for a more creative way to practice law. Though “there are some very creative people” in the profession, he could not find that niche.
Finally, in 1999, his wife said, “Go to art school. Or stop complaining.”
He did the latter. For 3 years, Stein practiced law while taking classes at the New York Studio School.
“A more prudent person would have taken a leave of absence” from the firm, he says.
But — although he’s kept his license, and still does a bit of contract work — Stein has been a full-time artist for nearly 20 years.
“It’s quite a switch,” he admits. “People know what a lawyer does. They have status. They don’t know what an artist does.” Then again, he adds, “I don’t know what ‘artist’ means either. I just put pigment on a flat surface.”
Stein does far more than that.
He began experimenting with collages at the Studio School. After earning an MFA from the Slade School in London, he began moving into the political realm.
Stein calls himself a “conceptual portrait painter.” A self-described “political junkie,” he is fascinated by what’s going on in the world, and with the economy.
The artist uses materials from a subject’s world to create their likeness. Stein calls it “a modern take on the Renaissance trope of putting objects into a portrait to illustrate the attributes of the subject — for example, books to show the subject was educated.”
Instead of illustrating the attributes of the subject with a symbol though, he collages the portraits with materials and text from the subject’s world.
Stein says, “I paint, draw and collage to find out what I think about the world; to discover the things I do not have words for. When painting, I savor the slips of the hand that express one’s unconscious feelings about the subject, and in collage, I love the randomness — the snippets of text and photographs appearing and disappearing that becomes the subject’s likeness.
“I am interested in the conversation between abstraction and realism. I do not want to make an academic copy of the model or a photo realistic illustration. My work rather explores the tension of what needs to be shown and what does not, the seen and the unseen.”
His subjects include Alan Greenspan, Timothy Geithner, Jamie Dimon, Janet Yellen and Elizabeth Warren. He’s done Donald Trump, of course.
Commissions started coming: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Queen Elizabeth, presidential candidates, Michael Bloomberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Andrew Cuomo, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Greta Thunberg, Amanda Gorman.
Stein works in a studio at his Westport home. He and his wife Pat — a partner in a law firm — bought a house here in 2015. Before COVID, it was a weekend getaway. Arriving Friday night and leaving Sunday, they were very much New York-focused.
Since moving here full-time in the early days of the pandemic, they have gotten to know their neighbors better. It’s been a wonderful sanctuary for them. “We recognize how fortunate we are,” Stein says.
(Their offices are on opposite sides of the house. “We meet in the middle for lunch and coffee,” he says.)
One downside to working alone: Stein says he has not had time to engage with Westport’s arts community. “I’ve had my head down, working and marketing,” he admits.
As he starts his next project — a Stacey Abrams collage — Stein is thinking about how to go back to the city. His wife’s firm plans to bring their lawyers back after Labor Day.
“It’s so nice to have all these trees, and so much room,” Stein says. “I understand how lucky I am to have both worlds.”
(For more information on Geoffrey Stein, and samples of his work, click here.)