To say that the opening of Ed Moses Through the Looking Glass, was crowded with fans and art lovers is an understatement. Moses is an LA icon of art, and the collection of his recent works on display here underscore the reasons for that honorific. That he continues to draw and fascinate viewers is unsurprising; his works are a magnet, deeply attractive, alive and engaging.
The late artist’s career was long punctuated with dazzling abstract works that honored color, pushed spatial boundaries, and took viewers into a different world. The show’s title reflects that aesthetic, and references one of Moses’ favorite authors, Lewis Carroll as well. At William Turner Gallery in Santa Monica through March 30th, the exhibition features primarily acrylic on canvas pieces, large-scale paintings that dance with light and an impish spirit that reflects the artist’s persona.
Moses produced hundreds of paintings and drawings over a 60-plus year career, working daily until almost the end of his life. His first major exhibition at Hollywood’s Ferus Gallery brought him into the late 50s era world of “cool school” LA artists that included local luminaries such as Ed Ruscha and Edward Kienholz.
Moses’ work has swirled with vibrant images from the very beginning; from the dense patterns of roses he created that were inspired by a Tijuana oil cloth table cover to recent craquelure paintings that featured black or white paint and a process that involved hitting the canvas to form the pattern of cracks that usually occurs during the aging of a work. Over the course of years, Moses’ work took on more of a meditative quality, and in fact, the artist meditated daily. He worked in an open-air studio, creating in his own way a kind of plein air painting process, somewhat unusual for abstract artists. A force of nature himself, wildly prolific, Moses seemed to absorb nature itself into his works, its shadows, light, and shapes.
The grids visible in his more recent work evolved over time, during a career in which he created Cubist works, thick squiggly patterned pieces, and long, muralist-style works that unfolded like all the panoply of the artist’s mind. His ever-evolving style defied classification; his work and his indefatigable spirit remained fresh. Even the materials he used were diverse: acrylic and oil paint, graphite, ink, masking tape, resin, mylar. While his palette was also varied, the defining characteristic of it was his boldness. He painted on canvas and thin parchment, on wood and metal rails. Whether using geometric or more organic forms, Moses engaged viewers with a wonderful, robust sensory overload that soared, sang, and punched from the gut. He often implemented unusual tools to create the work; toward the end of his life, even his walker was utilized to create patterns in paint.
The current exhibition revels in the spirit of experimentation and layered technique he had most recently employed. Moses last five years of work, represented at William Turner, is graceful and exciting, with bold patterns, many primary and primal colors, and a wide range of patterns, lines, and textures. There is a transcendent quality to many of these works, one which fully supports the show’s title. Step into the painter’s magic mirror and pass into a complete world of abstract works that are intense and commanding, fantastical and even a bit absurd. The works shimmer, defying easy categorization or definition, as if an unseen surface rested beneath the viewable surface of each piece, tantalizingly almost within reach.
The background grid is the dominant image in “#3,” but electric blue and red squiggles, like strands of errant confetti dance, between the mannered lines like jolts of electricity. In the foreground, the colors of a pale fire in an unruly curve rise in thick chaos, as if dropped there from the sky.
“Many Feet” gives us an almost translucent black and white grid, with dazzling splattered patterns in green and red and yellow in both foreground and background, creating an effect reminiscent of fireworks.
Three linked works, “Black Over White,” “White Over Black,” and “Red Over Black,” feature the cracked pattern that reminds the viewer of the surface of a parched planet or the skin of a reptile. It is mesmerizing. There is the intricacy of flowers, or roads, the weaving of a kind of painterly tapestry in “Black Over White;” in “Red Over Black” the effect is more sensual, one could almost imagine representations of bodies or limbs within the cracks.
“Wack 1” is both framed and divided by perfect thick white painted lines, a V-shape dominating the center of that frame. Behind and around these white lines are muted golds, blacks, and whites, forming a kind of cloud pattern, a universe of sorts, a shifting and ephemeral cloud caught in space, or the patterns on a faded silk kimono.
“Whir” is one of the most dynamic works, dominated by red with egg-shaped dots of white popping among a series of rectangular grids. It resembles a city seen from the sky, street lights and buildings, streets and a blur of traffic, or again, with that dominant red, one can conjure a burning at the heart of that city.
“Bubble Grip” gives us small star or cross-like images rising up from a broad stroke of black at one end of the canvas, with the middle of the work focuses on a wave-like configuration of white over black. Behind it is a well-defined grid of black, white, and red; smaller wavy black lines that look like strips of barbed wire and tiny elliptical black dots that seem ready to fly away are to the left and right of the piece.
There is so much movement and wildness in these works, even the most resolutely patterned. It is startling how alive and kinetic they are, and how much they not only draw the eye but keep the eye engaged, and start the mind questioning purpose and meaning. The visceral quality literally leaps from the canvas.
In an interview shortly before his death, Moses told the Los Angeles Times “These paintings have history, action — scars and blemishes, scratches and imperfections. These are me.”
Regardless of material and image, each of the works in the current William Turner show — and throughout the work Moses has created in years past — the overriding sensation that all his paintings invoke is that each is so deeply personal. Infused with light and strumming with passion, the works have always been an artist’s legacy.
Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist, journalist, and produced screen and television writer based in Los Angeles. Publisher and writer of www.diversionsLA.com, she also writes for a wide range of magazines and newspapers.