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In 2012 I was fortunate to have Master Printer Leslie Sutcliffe Cohn invite me to contribute to her 20/20 Project at El Moro Editions.

The 20/20 Project, begun in 2011, will include an etching by each of El Moro’s visiting artists until the year 2020. These prints will be produced in an edition of 40. Twenty suites of prints will be distributed to the participating artists; some of the suites will become part of the permanent collections of various institutions and the remainder will be available to the public. It is our hope that the 20/20 Project will foster a dialogue between the participating artists as well as an enhanced interest in and understanding of etching processes and their place in the digital age.

image etching pressEL MORO EDITIONS PRESS

Here is a link to the Facebook for El Moro Editions: https://www.facebook.com/El-Moro-Editions-214966545344434/

The relationship between the printer and the artist is -essentially- a collaboration. Leslie is an amazing artist herself, teaches art history and printmaking at Cuesta College and is able to figure out what her artists are trying to do.  I started with a small zinc plate, 5-1/2 by 8-7/8in. We thought we should print on a grey paper like I used on my ink drawings. Leslie found a beautiful light grey Stonehenge and tore it to size.

On LITTLE BUDDHA we used only hard ground and a little bit of drypoint and burnishing. I worked in a way that is similar to my small ink drawings (that you can read about elsewhere on this site).  Etching generally allows finer detail then drawing, gives a third dimension in the line and the plate gives a beautiful tone to the paper. After we got LITTLE BUDDHA to BAT (“bon à tirer” or “good to print” in French).

littlebuddha-workingLITTLE BUDDHA in transition

image little buddhaLITTLE BUDDHA, etching, plate: 5-1/2 by 8-7/8in. sheet: 11-1/2 by 15in, gray Stonehenge, ed: 40+2

LITTLE BUDDHA is included in El Moro Editions 20/20 Project:

image toolsTOOLS

I was fortunate to have Leslie help me with a few of my own pieces.We decided on hard ground, drypoint, sugar lift and aquatint on to keep it simple for me.

It went pretty well, I worked basically like I do on my small ink drawings, except of course left and right are reversed when you print and black and white are reversed when you draw. But unlike a drawing the line has a beautiful soft texture and a dimension in the Z plane. If you love etching you know what I mean, the line makes a microscopic shadow that begs to be examined up close.

Leslie was very patient and let me start jamming on them. She inked and wiped each plate more than a dozen times before we were happy with the result and always had great suggestions on how to make interesting stuff happen and how to minimize unpleasant surprises

image workingART IS LIKE WORK

HORSE BITES DOG (HBD): we worked on three of these plates on my first visit. HBD was the first that we called it quits on. “Is it done?”  Done enough! HBD, like the next two pieces, is titled by what emerged like the Guernica horse, distant clouds, view of Mount Fuji, crabs, cats and birds. by intention and accident in the production. As things appear we tried to help them along or mourn them when they get submerged, hopefully superseded by items that were more evocative. When you are working fast sometimes you have to work past your perception. Not worry about seeing it at the point so much but work in a way that allows accidents and intention to coexist.

IMAGE HORES BITES DOGHORSE BITES DOG, plate: 11×14-3/4, sheet: 15×19-3/4in, etching on Stonehenge, ed: 10+2

SHETLAND PONY: strange animals, spaceships, medieval armor, giant beetles, a gryphon, distant mountains, floating clouds, dancing goats, sunset through the trees.

IMAGE SHETLAND PONYSHETLAND PONY, plate: 11×14-3/4, sheet: 15×19-3/4in, etching on Stonehenge, ed: 10+2


RUNNING MOON MAN: Robots and clowns, nebulae, dragons, and moon creatures.

IMAGE MOON MANRUNNING MOON MAN, plate: 11×14-3/4, sheet: 15×19-3/4in, etching on Stonehenge, ed: 10+2


A GREAT FLEET OF GALLEONS BOUND OUR WAY: Apologies to Richard Wilbur, the towering whipped cream in this could almost be mistaken for galleons under sail, or maybe a little dutch girl talking to a frog while the “galleons” break up some brutalist architecture.

image of etching tossing hayA GREAT FLEET OF GALLEONS, plate: 11×14-3/4, sheet: 15×19-3/4in, etching on Stonehenge, ed: 10+2


ACROSS A MOILED EXPANSE OF TOSSING HAY:  More apologies to Wilbur but once I put in the moiled hay it just seemed to make sense.

IMAGE, TOSSING HAYACROSS A MOILED EXPANSE OF TOSSING HAY, plate: 11×14-3/4, sheet: 15×19-3/4in, etching on Stonehenge, ed: 10+2



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UNTITLED from 1976

UNTITLED 1976, Novacolor on paper

I revived this painting from 1976. I pulled it out of the drawer where it’s been laying for almost 40yrs. I always liked the piece and thought I would come back to it sometime and flesh out the issues it raised. It had some elements of that cool detachment that was popular in some abstract painting as well as some geometric elements from Al Held, Frank Stella and the wonderful Don Sorenson, I knew there was a whole series here but I was working thru these images so fast at the time that I didn’t have a chance to sort of flesh it out. What I mean is I didn’t have time to do any clear cutting in that section of forest because I had to move on up the mountain.

UNTITLED 1976 is on rhoplex soaked Arches 88 I taped the lines off and sealed the tape with like a cad yellow so that shows thru in a couple of places. the little rectangles have the tiniest black edge. They’re painted with  nacreous white (transparent white mixed with powdered mica) in multiple layers and  you can just barely  see a little of the color glowing thru but not enough to make out exactly what color it is.

repeating past mistakes 1

JUST ONE WORD “PLASTICS”, Novacolor and Gold Leaf on Paper

As we see JUST ONE WORD “PLASTICS” is not quite as “cool” as UNTITLED 1976 but retains the same color scheme. The grid tape was sealed with a viscous, transparent mix of reds and yellow earth tones so there is a lot of optical action as our cortex tries to rationalize the flecks of color bouncing around behind the black grid. The flying rectangles have a calligraphic donut around them that makes them both separate and stick to the grid. Like the first one from 78 I put down some base color on the rectangles and started over them with some nacreous white and slivers of gold leaf. The gold was laid down as I added layers of white to make a nice foggy effect that might help us imagine we’re looking into a little floating world. The gold leaf glows in oblique light so when we walk by we get some nice flashes of light and a subtle indication of multiple colors embedded in the rectangles.


rpm 2

MEASURE ONCE, Novacolor, Oil and Gold Leaf on Paper


This one… MEASURE ONCE shows us how to go just a little bit at a time – I added some random color a little bit of blue sky with clouds (because I was looking at some Maynard Dixons) and as you can see I let the color do the talking on top of this little grid. Fake wood grain, some clouds, cool pinks, hot pinks, browns, prussian blue. Like in the first one – I work the “seal color” for the tape so we get a little glimpse around the edges. I like that this gives a more solid feel, I mean it makes it look like a slab of color instead of thin film.


rpm III

KEEP DIGGING, Novacolor, Oil and Coloraid Paper on Paper

KEEP DIGGING is another step closer (or farther) to perfection, I don’t know which. I started this with a slap to the face via a little tiny grid of black lines with a tiny bit of color peeking out here and there. I un-taped it and slapped  another grid on top. This one had a some red, yellow and green gradients smeared into it and a definite outline like some kind of racing stripe gone crazy.  Like in JUST ONE WORD “PLASTICS”  I taped of the floating rectangles, that were previously set at strategic vertexes of the golden mean grid, and threw down some meaty, colored calligraphy. On top of that some nacreous white embedded with bits of Coloraid paper cut into what I thought were evocative shapes that seem to cut into and through the thick, oscuro of the nacreous white.


I’LL MAKE IT UP TO YOU, Novacolor, Oil, Pencil on Paper


As you can see the grid in I’LL MAKE IT UP TO YOU starts and ends at the edge, nothing lives outside this. The “grid” lines narrow to a point at the edge and the larger windows are completely contained within. This ending at the edge also makes the surface appear to pillow nicely. These little  windows as well as the calligraphic shapes, sit within and/or line up to major vertices on the foundational grid. Working on this scale precision is important. The edges are precise to help with the illusion of cutting through or floating miles above.  I was thinking of Ed Moses’s crackle paintings when I made the delicate little crackle elements (thanks Ed.) I love fake wood grain and stripes too.


Connie Mallinson on my Meditation Drawings April 26, 2013

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54.2 drawing detail

The graphic works of Bill Jehle have many art historical antecedents from the hybrid creatures of Hieronymous Bosch to Surrealism’s automatic writing and stream of consciousness imagery, German Expressionist caricatures, the ink drawings of Picasso, Jackson Pollock’s swirling cosmic seas, and more recently, the head comics of the psychedelic age. As with most contemporary art, the preoccupation is not on formal innovation and rule breaking but on a synthesis of such traditions and influences with personal experience and current events. Rather than a resignation from the task of the “shock of the new”, this embrace of often conflicting approaches and narratives, allows for an unprecedented freedom of expression and a hybridity with unlimited combinations. That sense of ever multiplying possibility, metamorphosis, and infinite connections characterizes Jehle’s constantly morphing and connecting shapes.  Owing perhaps to what one critic recently described as our “and/also” culture as opposed to an “either/or” culture , his is a world where boundaries are no longer secure and the basic rational structures and binary relationships relied on since the Enlightenment are undermined by a delirious mélange of visuals with no discernible order or hierarchies. Hewing to recent descriptions of “visual culture” in which fine art, illustration, and popular culture have equal influence on visuality, here stylized cartoon characters, beautifully rendered animal/human/plant forms merge seamlessly with architectonic and natural landscape features. Body orifices and genitalia cavort with evocations of death’s heads, clowns, and catastrophic weather.Devilishly playful and willfully asymmetrical, united primarily by fine draughtsmanship, and the rich tonalities resulting from varied line, “textured” cross hatchings and pointillistic detailing, they are as much involved with the viewer’s absorption into a pleasurable visual experience as they are with metaphors for the mind or suggestions that the Internet Age might be ensnaring us in a Piranesian web of nightmarish associations.

At the heart of these drawings is a Baroque emphasis on disorder in which linear time and geometric planning are eschewed in favor of more natural arrangements. A kind of frothy, bubbly organicism replaces classical structure, leaving the viewer slightly unmoored and with a Goya-esque fear that nature might overwhelm reason. Deep space and proximity are confounded with near- three dimensional modeled form dissolving into expanses of white paper and darkened “holes” doubling as flat inkspots. That spatial ambiguity is crucial to understanding the real importance of Jehle’s practice: it allows that entropy and ruin lie very close to generation and renewal. The drawings remind us that with the dissolution of a blind commitment to progress as promised by Modernism comes the release of energy, creativity and imagination.  In lieu of the utopian, contemporary existence seeks incompletion, always the non-fixed, recombinant, and ecologically interconnected, not a soon to be completed project. Ideas spiral around, form new synapses and relationships so that we might meditate on such questions concerning, for example, the human impact on or place in our environment.  From an initial inspection the pictures resemble topographical maps, but instead of charting terrain for easy travel, they map how dreams, poetry and artistic observation are necessary to negotiate past, present and future.

41.2 drawing detail

Unter Eichen September 27, 2012

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weird face in an oak trunk Under Oaks is a series That came about from living in an oak forest here in Topanga. Our property is host to at least 80 imposing Coast Live Oaks (and they host us). The Chumash, I heard, called them “los dedos del diablo.” After living here awhile you begin to understand why Quercus agrifolia are indeed the fingers of the devil. They are unpredictable. Their trunks and branches meander in suggestive and monstrous ways. They seem to anchor the cold to the ground and in summer create doldrums that block the ocean breeze. They come crashing to the ground without notice and sprout apparently without discrimination.

Black trunks and branches and in the rain even blacker. The foliage looks gray at first, then green high up with little patches of blue sky, sometimes it’s hard to tell if they’re even alive. The branches twist and wander and arrange themselves into fantastic, alternately benevolent or wrathful figures, a horse, a weird frog, some kind of segmented insect, an arabesque…. The bark is rough and thick, scarred by long life and painful decisions. Every tree proclaims a hidden life of its own.

meandering branches in the oaks I work in the same way as the forest; preparing the paper, building the crystalline structure, inventing the black and golden body that twists and meanders over ley lines in the paper. Sometimes a geometric shape, a bed, a carpet, is found, aligned with a constellation. A place to get your heading. Then come the leaves and branches, those I grow like the leaves and branches of the Quercus agrifolia: both by chance and exploitation of opportunity. After each layer of Splattobscurro (which allows a cetain degree of chance) I exploit what chance has presented.
The process is additive, color on color. Because of the way this technique is applied the figures that result follow what appear to be predetermined pathways. Like the oaks themselves the paintings evoke sun and shade through branches that twist and wander and suggest the life that grows from an ancient golden core.

Brian McNeece on Leonidas September 21, 2012

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Leonidas, June 9, 2012

I don’t have an emotional response when I first see it. Like some people, because of the many pencil lines left from the drafting stage, I tend to think that it’s not finished. The painting is a profile view of the whole dog cut with pencil lines in very complex geometric shapes. The whole painting is about three by four feet with the mosaic scale at around one inch. This is my explanation for it: As you look at it, you can see multiple planes and a strange combination of perspective and flatness. Both the animal and its background look like they have either just been re-assembled from a prior explosion or are about to be exploded into a million pieces. Some hidden planes emerge as your eye rests on various parts, as in cubism, as if we can see the dog from more than one vantage point. The lower part of the background is green, yellow and blue, evoking a sense of a calm but lively exploded landscape, including a stream that has been taken apart and scattered in new, discrete locations in coves and canyons and hillsides made secret from one another. The upper part of the background is similarly cut into white and blue triangles and curved trapezoids bent through many sweeping radii, giving an impression of clouds and sky. The dog is pushed very forward, almost in our laps. The whole painting can be interpreted as either being very flat or full of depth, so full that the viewer might think the artist is trying to take us into the underlying geometry of the archetype or “form” of a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog. What I don’t really see in the dog, and wish I did, is its muscular power and weight. There’s a radiating center point just to the left of Leo’s jaw. For some reason, I wish I could feel a sense of foreground and dimension there to feel the power of this very powerful animal. But I don’t. Just behind the dog’s neck, the line of the back drops in a plane. That’s interesting, as is the heavier shading toward the hind legs along the back and in the front forelegs. For me, the denser variety of shading helps to give the dog a more satisfying sense of weight and presence.

The strongest parts of the dog are the eyes and the snout because the mosaic-like, geometrically divided theme is set aside here for a more curvilinear and boldly-blocked shading and sense of depth. However, the more I look at it, the more there is to see.

Overall, the work reveals an artist with an intense but calmly controlled interest in complex, deep, multilayered views of the world. This ambitious work is a dog-owner’s embrace of a beloved dog, combined with an honest search for its architectonic purity in a mysterious world that can be ordered through close examination.

-Brian Mcneece,  June 9, 2012

How we Made Leonidas:

What if we take the arbitrary nature out of drawing and painstakingly convert the chaotic line of nature to vectors coordinated to a fixed grid system? OK-this picture was built on a golden mean, 1.618 grid (GM). By resizing the original photograph and superimposing it on the grid, we could align the major features i.e.; heart, head and tail, throat chakras, etc. with the major vertices on the grid. Interestingly everything pretty much snapped into place. From there we built the “drawing” outline and reconstructed it so that every segment, made up of straight lines and arcs, aligned with at least two points on the GM. (For example curves had their center; radius and start/end align with points on the GM.) The resulting segmentation/tiling of the broader planes was a result of nothing more than the continuation of the outline construction to their respective vertices. If one were so inclined they could follow one of the vectors out into the “countryside” and see where it connected to a symbolic real world. What we did in effect is vectorize, by hand, a raster image, but not just vectorize, make sure those vectors were all really located with real points in the paper space. This construction method is a way to remove some of the arbitrary nature of drawing so we could determine exactly where a line, curve and container for color. should be located, where it should stop and start etc. Not based on our judgment, observation or skill at drawing but determined by direct drafting method. It puts the lie to ”the arabesque” by bringing truth to it.

Of course there is still decision Making and “design” decisions on a micro level in some passages but for the most part the rich and complex symmetry is a direct result of the method we set up to make this.

-Bill Jehle, September 20, 2012

Leonidas, King of the Dogs June 11, 2012

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leonidas jpeg

Leonidas: Named after the great king of the Spartans elected to defend Greece from the combined armies of Xerxes at Thermopylae in 481BCE.

For you, inhabitants of wide-wayed Sparta,

Either your great and glorious city must be wasted by Persian men,

Or if not that, then the bound of Lacedaemon must mourn a dead king, from Heracles’ line.

The might of bulls or lions will not restrain him with opposing strength; for he has the might of Zeus.

I declare that he will not be restrained until he utterly tears apart one of these

-Oracle of Delphi

Leonidas’ stand with his 4-7000 (the 300) troops was the inspiration also for possibly the gayest painting ever made.

david painting jpeg
Leonidas at Thermopylae, by Jacques-Louis David (1814)

Blade Runner:

I’ve seen things you “people”(my quotes) wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. [pause] Time to die.

-Ruger Hauer


Rutger Hauer’s gentle evocation of the memories, experiences, and passions that drive the short lives of androids mirrors our own transitory connection to time, memory, understanding and what remains. This is even more so for a LEONIDAS, a sentient non-human,  because his transit will be so brief, what he leaves so ethereal and what he takes with him, to “people”, unbelievable..

guercino jpeg

A dog’s life is brief, his feelings, thoughts, if any, are hidden from us mortals.  According the Upanishads, horses (and possibly dogs) retain their memory of past lives. History for them may be an unbroken ribbon of tests of love and loyalty.

Like the sacrificial horse of the The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad; LEONIDAS allows us to contemplate the trail of experience, memory and loss as the universe contained in the horse (dog) is continuously dismantled and reassembled.

Leonidas is a painting about a dog, not of a dog. It was built on a golden mean (GM) (1.618) grid and using enlarged photographs all the lines were coordinated to major and minor vertexes on the grid. I could have used a raster to vector conversion program and had it printed full size but to align the outlines with the GM Grid would have been inaccurate at best. Doing the conversion by hand enabled the accurate placement of the endpoints of each line and the radius and endpoints of each arc. This enabled the outline to be more fully connected to the structure of the painting. Otherwise it would be merely laid on top of the grid destroying the, figuratively, figure ground relationship. All the lines and shapes in the painting were actual strokes and fills from actual construction of the outline.

The Anabasis June 5, 2012

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Anabasis (Ἀνάβασις – Greek for “going up”)

Complex abstract painting on paper to commemorate Xenophon’s account of the failed conquest of Persia by the “10,000” in 401BCE.

Spurred on by the Cyrus the Younger, hungry for gain, the Greeks (mostly veterans, unemployed and under-employed, due to the temporary slowdown in Greek on Greek warfare) were promised riches and honor but instead found, betrayal, defeat and struggle for survival and freedom.

Their plans and hopes suddenly became irrelevant in the face of rapidly changing circumstances.

With their leaders betrayed and killed by treacherous Persians, they refused to lay down their arms; instead choosing to fight their way home. The story is a fascinating personal account of the Greeks organizing themselves, and mostly by consensus, figuring out how to get from Babylon to Greek colonies on the Black Sea.

A parable of the triumph of democratic order over chaos.

The horse is a copy of a Parthenon head by Phidias http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phidias and could represent the triumph of competent decision and democratic order over anarchy. I was thinking of the tuna as representing the safety of the sea: “thálatta, thálatta” was the famous cry as the depleted but relieved army reached the mountains overlooking the Black Sea.


Braver than me October 13, 2010

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first green stuff

first green through the oak leaves

After just a couple of inches of rain over two days stuff is already starting to sprout. I admire their optimism but with the Santa Anas blowing it’s hard to believe they will survive.

This time of year is normally what we call false spring (of course winter is when everything grows), we get a little rain, just enough to get the wildflowers started then not enough to wet your whistle for another six weeks and by then the grass takes over, sigh.

I just can’t share their optimism.

It’s Official NWS says “El Nino coming” September 12, 2009

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Last fall we had a huge fall of acorns. Now (end of summer another, light so far,  fall of acorns that started about 4 weeks ago (middle of summer). I called Max to gloat that this confirmed my theory about a coming El Nino event this winter. Now NWS has jumped on my bandwagon http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/enso_advisory/ensodisc.html (non peer reviewed) that Quercus agrifolia predicts future weather events more than a year in the future.

here is an abstract of a paper by Steinberg, Peter D. 2002

He thinks that from the studies he’s seen that there is probably no direct correlation between future (or even past) rainfall and acorn production. I believe that if it was correlated to future El Nino or future drought there might be a connection.  And a convenient predictor 18+ months in advance of El Nino events. At least that’s what I’ve observed here over the last 3 El ninos in Topanga.

Also in a paper by W. Koenig et al; http://www.nbb.cornell.edu/wkoenig/K075TA_96.pdf  the researchers were unable to reach a conclusion on a definitive correlation between rainfall and acorn production in subsequent years.

Of course acorn production is a more complicated mechanism than prior years precipitation and depends also on more than just future rainfall projections. It also depends on trailing indicators like insect predation, and possibly subtle temperature and humidity variations during spring pollination. Of course those variations could also be predictors of future high rainfall seasons.

Acorn crops usually fall in November, this year 2009 we are having a large fall now, Aug Sept.

Q. agrifolia crop Sept 09

Q. agrifolia crop Sept 09

But I haven’t seen at least posted on the web a link between acorn production and future El Nino events up to 18 months away.

Need to find acorn crop production chart.

I say mild El Nino 09-10 July 13, 2009

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In some places the oak seedlings are so thick that it looks like six inch high ground cover. The quercus agrifolia last winter dropped a pretty big crop of acorns. Not as many as they dropped in winter 03-04 that preceded the 04-05 El Nino but still quite a lot.

oak seedlings spring-summer 09

oak seedlings spring-summer 09

Since I believe the Quercus agrifolia anticipate the climate and don’t just react to it, the indication of them setting out seedlings in advance of the El Nino shows that they (know?) anticipate a large rain event is coming. They drop a lot of acorns in a relatively dry year to get seedlings established. Over the summer those seedlings will be thinned out and by the time the rains come in the late fall those that survive will be positioned to take advantage of an abundant rain season.

Of course the oaks exist on a different time scale than humans. To them season to season is like another day to us. The last time the El Nino came it seemed like they looked out and (“said”)  “it looks like it’s going to rain tomorrow, we better get these plants started.” And they shook off a bunch of acorns to get the process going. It just so happens that that was in the winter that preceeded the El Nino.  These oaks don’t so much react as adapt to and anticipate  coming weather events. That’s why the statistics of acorn production  may look  like they don’t have any relationship to climate events. Thats because if we would look for the oaks to be a trailing indicator the statistics wouldn’t make sense.

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