Ed Moses is sitting in the middle of Montana Avenue's latest
home-furnishings boutique, Living by Lynne Leventen, a menagerie of
candles, chandeliers and wall art. He's observing his recently installed
painting, which he calls The Poet and the Jabberwocky.
“painting” is really a series of paintings: six 4-foot-by-8-foot
plywood panels covered with paint and sprayed fabric. Each panel has its
own pattern. One is filled with images of African wildlife from the
Serengeti, one contains fragments of your great-aunt's floral-themed
wallpaper, another has the machine-honed pattern of an elegant toile,
and one defies any rational reason to be grouped with the others. It's a
sheet filled with reflective Plexiglas, sort of a fun-house mirror (the
kind that renders your torso long and your legs stumps). Moses thinks
it's more “like Alice in Wonderland Through the Looking Glass.”
what inspires his artistic expression, Moses snaps back, “There are no
preconceived ideas … and don't call me an artist!” OK, Ed. What
exactly are you, then?
“I'm a painter. An artist can be a lot of things.”
How does he create his paintings? For his answer, he lashes out, “I don't create. … There is only ONE Creator.”
Oh, are you religious, then? “No!” Atheist? “No!”
have a theory about the universe, though,” he says. “Scientists talk
about the big bang theory, an explosion that occurred billions of years
ago that created the universe. What if the process is really more of a
'folding in' instead of a blowing up, and the sun and the stars and the
planets and all of humanity are part of the ingredients that were folded
in over time?”
It is not a stretch to think of Moses as a
philosopher. His observations are brilliant at times, at times bizarre,
sometimes contradictory. But then Moses says he likes going off in
different directions. His works often are representative of “three or
four notions occurring at the same time.” His art is a collection of
“mutations” — one series of paintings morphing into another.
is enjoying a special moment in the spotlight these days as one of the
artists featured in Pacific Standard Time, a citywide celebration of Los
Angeles art from 1945 to 1980. A new generation is discovering Moses,
trying to understand him.
He describes himself as a “painter in
process.” His pieces involve multiple treatments: the selection and
preparation of painting surfaces (canvas or plywood); the assemblage of
the media (paint, fabric, stenciled wood cutouts, spray guns [for
paint], etc.), and ultimately the installation of the painting itself.
may have between five and eight pieces in progress at a time, each
attempt different from the last. He destroys up to 200 pieces a year.
It's all part of the process.
Most of Moses' work is done at his
home in Venice, an island in a sea of 1950s and '60s bungalows. Three
contiguous parcels are fenced off from neighbors and filled with
tropical flora. His home is minimalist: a simple, wood-framed building
with plywood walls and skylights overhead. The vibe is World War II
South Pacific postmodern.
He has two “viewing rooms,” barnlike
structures he handcrafted some 30 years ago. A series of paintings with
geometric shapes defined by lines fills one of the studio walls. They
are paintings Moses says have been “inhabited by the ghosts of Mondrian
and Van Doesburg.”
On the wall opposite the geometric pieces is a
series of panels with images that appear three-dimensional. One panel
has Moses' signature stencil cutout suspended above the surface. The
other panels give only the illusion of 3-D, a sort of riddle or puzzle.
Moses describes his work as either “two-dimensional” or
“four-dimensional.” Four? Really?
Turns out the fourth dimension is time.
discussion of form and function somehow segues back to the esoteric:
“My work is phenomena uninflected by interpretation.” Moses is hunched
over a table with some of his paintings, which are the products of what
he refers to as “crackling.” (The paintings are left to dry in the sun,
which produces fissures, or cracks.)
Moses shifts gears seamlessly
to observe, “Man's endless pursuit of money will bring it all down.”
(This from a painter whose pieces have fetched prices in the hundreds of
thousands of dollars.) There is a bit of fatalism in his tone. Not
surprising, then, is his interest in Jorge Luis Borges, who once wrote,
“Whoever reads the hourglass sees the dissolution of an empire.”
As egocentric as he may seem, Moses is by no means arrogant. He's quite endearing to those who appreciate him.
“I always had to be the guy,” he says.
at the store on Montana, he gets personal. “When I was a boy in third
grade, I was having trouble keeping up in school. My mother had me take
an IQ exam. … Let's just say I wasn't Albert Einstein.”
Turns out, he was slightly dyslexic and suffered from attention deficit disorder. But somehow he overcame these deficiencies.
surprisingly, his eye for composition and form extends well beyond his
paintings. He is happiest surrounded by women. At 85, he is something of
a chick magnet. The stories of his conquests are legendary. While
interning at the studios back in the day, Moses “spotted this cute
little derriere.” Quickening his pace, he caught up to find the “cute
little butt belonged to Marilyn Monroe.”
As with his art, he leaves the rest of the story to your imagination.
For more on Moses check out his oral history for L.A. Weekly in our Pacific Standard Time preview issue.
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