For more than half a century, Ed Moses engaged in what he saw as the continual process of discovery. His compositions include Braque-inspired, semi-representational scenes; abstract, allover patterns; color fields; hard-edged geometric shapes; and his late-career crackle paintings. Broken Loose is a collection of works curated from Moses’ complete oeuvre that showcases the gamut of the artist’s explorations.
“My thought is that the artist functions in a tribal context, that he is the shaman. When the urban life came in, tribes no longer existed… but there was still a genetic core of shamans, broken loose and genetically floating around. And when they had this gene, they shook the rattles. The shamans were the interpreters of the unknown, they reacted to the unknown with symbols and objects and wall painting. And that’s where it all came from. That’s where I came from. But when you’re a young man you don’t know that.”
What 4 (Grid with Chutes and Ladders 9) acrylic on canvas 76 x 60 x 1.75 inches 2015-2016
Orange Aid acrylic on canvas
66.25 x 54 x 1.75 inches 2002
Totum-Zul acrylic on canvas 66 x 54 inches 2006
b. Long Beach, CA (April 9, 1926 – January 17, 2018)
Ed Moses was a prominent figure in the Los Angeles art scene and key promoter of Post-War, West Coast art for almost 60 years. Best known for his eclectic range, his canvases are formal abstractions that use a variety of processes to experiment with surface—creating striations, cracks, marks and blurs at times juxtaposed with hard-edge geometric abstraction. As he described, “Painting is like discovery, trying this, trying that, bending this, twirling that, and then, every once in a while, it goes bing!”
As a young man, Moses joined the military during World War II as a Navy Medical Corps surgical technician and discovered an aptitude for treating injuries. After his tour ended, he enrolled in Long Beach City College’s pre-med program with the intent of becoming a doctor. After a painting course with Pedro Miller, Moses switched his major to art. He then went on to study at University of California, Los Angeles, where he would receive both his bachelor’s and master’s
degrees. While enrolled in his master’s program, fellow artist Craig Kauffman introduced Moses to Walter Hopps, future owner of the influential Ferus Gallery. Though he’d been exhibiting since 1949, Moses first showed at Ferus in 1958—while still enrolled at UCLA— and quickly became part of the “Cool School” with artists Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Ed Ruscha, John Altoon, and others. Following graduation, Moses moved to New York City where he became friends with Franz Kline, Milton Resnick, William de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, with whom he would exhibit in New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. In 1959, Moses married Avilda Peters and moved back to Los Angeles to start a family, travel, and continue his painting career. Always working with process and experimenting with materials as a painter, Moses was critically lauded for his bold composition and innovation. In 1968, he received a Tamarind Lithography Fellowship as well as the offer of a teaching position at the University of California, Los Angeles, his alma mater, where he would teach until 1972. After travels in Europe, he returned to UCLA to teach until 1976. The same year he was recognized with a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Grant and his first museum shows: a show of drawings from 1958-1970s at the Wight Gallery at UCLA, and a show of new
abstract and cubist red paintings at LACMA curated by Stephanie Barron, the latter marking a transitional moment in his career. While drawing was prominent in his work in the 1960s and early 70s, by the mid-70s, Moses was turning increasingly to painting.
In 1980, Moses was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and traveled in Japan. Moses worked with Peter Goulds at L.A. Louver from 1980 to 1995, during which time he also continued to travel extensively throughout Europe and Asia. In 1983 and 1985, he taught at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and at California State Berkley, respectively.
By 1990, Moses—a spiritual descendant of the Abstract Expressionists and a dedicated student of Buddhism—was living in Venice, Ca., meditating daily and blazing his own trail to aesthetic truth. Working with unconventional materials and tools, including mops, hoses, and rubber scrapers, he painted behind his house, where he lived for more than 30 years. Here, influenced by the tenets of Buddhism, he was working in the moment, embracing and responding to elements of chance and circumstance. Endlessly intrigued with the metaphysical power of painting, he created works
that embraced temporality, process and presence, remarking that “the point is not to be in control, but to be in tune.”
In 1996, his career was the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. In the catalog, critic John Yau wrote, “The diversity he has achieved is unparalleled among contemporary abstract artists. And within this diversity is an emotional range that is also unparalleled.” For Moses, however, success was secondary to the pleasure of painting itself. Ten years later, Moses’ art was featured in the Pompidou Center’s survey exhibition “Los Angeles: Birth of an Artistic Capital, 1955-1985” in Paris.
Even in his later years, Moses remained a prolific fixture of the L.A. art scene and was respected for his inventiveness as an artist and his attention to new developments in contemporary art. In 2014, he returned “home” with an exhibition at University of California. The next year, in an exhibition of drawings from the 1960s and 70s at LACMA, Director Michael Govan commented, “Ed Moses has been central to the history of art-making in Los Angeles for more than half a century.” That exhibition included more than 40 drawings promised to the museum by the artist.
Ed Moses obsessively mined the possibilities of abstract painting for over 60 years, leaving an indelible mark on the contemporary art world. He was extraordinarily productive; even in his 90s he showed little signs of slowing down, painting daily as he had done for decades outdoors in his Venice studio.
He died in Venice, California, on January 17, 2018.
Moses’ works are held in the permanent collections of the Albright-Knox Gallery, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Berkeley Art Museum at UC Berkeley; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Dallas Museum of Art, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Hammer Museum; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Cincinnati Museum of Art; Butler Art Institute of American Art, Ohio;
Dallas Museum of Art; National Gallery of Art; Musee National d’art moderne – Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, FR; and many others.
Images courtesy of the artist’s estate and John Dowd at Clutch Photos
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