The graphic works of Bill Jehle have many art historical antecedents– from the hybrid creatures of Hieronymous Bosch to Surrealism’s automatic writing and sexual innuendo, 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, his preoccupation is not with formal innovation and rule breaking but involves a synthesis of such traditions and influences with personal experience and the current milieu. Rather than a resignation from the task of the “shock of the new”, Jehle’s 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 his constantly morphing 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. The basic rational structures and binary relationships relied on since the Enlightenment are undermined by a delirious mĂ©lange of visuals with no apparent order or hierarchies. At the heart of these drawings is a Baroque emphasis on disorder in which fixed point perspective and spatial hierarchies yield to a kind of frothy, bubbly fecundity. Any implied or generative structures like underlying grids are willfully destabilized, skewed, leaving the viewer slightly unmoored and with a Goya-esque fear that nature might overwhelm reason.

Recent descriptions of “visual culture” in which fine art, illustration, and popular culture have equal influence on visuality, help situate the drawings in contemporary critical discourse. Working intuitively and in a stream-of-consciousness, devilishly playful process, Jehle seamlessly interweaves stylized cartoon characters, beautifully rendered animal/human/plant forms with architectonic and natural landscape features. Body orifices and genitalia cavort with evocations of death’s heads, clowns, and catastrophic weather. Deep space and proximity are confounded with near-three dimensional modeled form dissolving into expanses of white paper. Darkened “holes” double as flat inkspots.

This promiscuous; “all-over” figuration and spatial ambiguity is ultimately unified by fine draftsmanship and the rich tonalities resulting from varied line, “textured” cross hatchings and pointillistic detailing. The resulting absorption into a pleasurable visual experience is as crucial as the content elicited. Among the many antithetical metaphors suggested are the meditative mind as opposed to nightmarish webs of proliferating images from an information-saturated world. In other interpretations, the indiscriminate piling and heaping of bodies with objects and fragments of culture implies apocalyptic scenarios, but equally possible here, is the idea that entropy and ruin lie very close to generation and renewal.

The drawings also remind us that with the dissolution of a blind commitment to linear; 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 contemplate, for example, questions concerning human impact on the environment. Initially, the pictures resemble topographical maps, but instead of charting terrain for easy travel, they map how dreams, poetry and, memory complicate and immeasurably enrich the journey.

-Constance Mallinson