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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

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