Ed Moses — a lion of West Coast American art who helped establish Los Angeles as a capital of abstract painting beginning in the 1950s and ’60s — died Wednesday evening at his home in Venice. His death was confirmed by his son Andy Moses to the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. Moses was 91.
Moses made his earliest mark at the influential Ferus Gallery, which stood on North La Cienega Boulevard in what is now West Hollywood. Ferus cultivated groundbreaking Southern California artwork with potent solo shows from Moses and contemporaries Wallace Berman, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, John Mason, Kenneth Price, Llyn Foulkes, Larry Bell and Ed Ruscha from 1957 to 1963. (Moses’ solo show was in 1958; Ferus shuttered in 1967.)
Among later milestones for Moses were a 1976 LACMA show, noted for its series of monochromatic red paintings in both abstract and cubist styles; inclusion in the 1991 Whitney Biennial; and a 2006 exhibit of Los Angeles artists at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, of which Moses was a major focus.
Recent exhibitions of his art included a 2015 LACMA exhibit of his drawings from the ’60s and ’70s, as well as a survey celebrating his 90th birthday at William Turner Gallery in Santa Monica and a solo show at Albertz Benda Gallery in New York, both in 2016. He was one of the key artists in the group exhibition “Two Schools of Cool” at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2011-12.
“Ed was a force of nature — passionate, intense, restlessly curious, always in motion,” gallery owner William Turner said. “He loved painting — it was his way of leaving his mark on the world — and he was hard at it every day, right up to the last weeks of his life. Ed painted in the moment, without preconception, alert to the doors of possibility that opened by embracing chance and circumstance in the process of working.”
Moses, who was born on a boat as his mother voyaged from Hawaii to California, grew up in Compton, Torrance and Long Beach. He earned his MFA from UCLA in 1958, after beginning his studies at Long Beach City College and spending many years as an off-and-on student. He taught studio art at UC Irvine in the ’60s and UCLA in the ’70s. Moses had resided in Venice since the ’80s.
Moses’ work ranged from graphite drawings of floral patterns and geometric compositions to vibrant, slanted grids and vigorous, gestural brushwork on canvas. Admired for his prolific and continually evolving output, Moses’ steadfast view of art as exploration rather than expression — not to create something, but to find it —and his refusal to adapt a consistent, signature style perhaps obviated him from wider recognition.
“I’d like to make it very clear that I’m not creative,” Moses told L.A. Weekly’s Tibby Rothman in 2011, “and I’m not trying to express myself. I’m an explorer, I’m trying to discover things, discover the phenomenal world by examining it, by looking at it, playing with the materiality, pushing it around, shoving it, throwing it in the air.”
Moses is survived by his wife, Avilda Peters, two children and two grandchildren.