It is with great sadness that William Turner Gallery announces that legendary Los Angeles artist and cultural icon, Ed Moses, has died at 91. Moses passed away peacefully of natural causes at his Venice, CA home and studio Wednesday, January 17th, 2018.
In a career that spanned 7 decades, Moses received national and international recognition for his practice, known for its restless intensity and ever-evolving style. Considered one of LA’s most innovative painters and a central figure in the city’s art scene, Moses often referred to himself as a “mutator”, driven less by the desire for self-expression than by an insatiable curiosity to explore and discover. Describing his approach, Moses said, “The rational mind constantly wants to be in charge. The other parts want to fly. My painting is the encounter between the mind’s necessity for control and its yearning to fly, to be free from our ever-confining skull.”
Ed Moses was born on April 9, 1926 in Long Beach, CA. His mother Olivia Branco had just separated from his father Alphonses Moses, and was relocating the family from Hawaii to California. Moses did not initially choose the artistic path. After serving as a surgical technician during World War II, Moses intended to become a doctor. He enrolled in Long Beach City College’s pre-med program, but dropped out, citing his inability to memorize the curriculum. On a whim, he took a life-changing class with artist Pedro Miller, who recognized the spark of untapped talent. Moses changed course and enrolled in UCLA’s MFA program. There he met artist Craig Kauffman who introduced him to the future Ferus Gallery owner Walter Hopps.
Moses had his first exhibition at Ferus Gallery in 1958 while still a graduate student at UCLA. It was at Ferus that Moses would become a member of the raucous group of artists known as the “Cool School”; a group that included Kauffman, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Edward Kienholz, Ken Price, Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, John Altoon and Wallace Berman - all of whom pushed the boundaries of Post War art and shaped the nascent LA art scene at a time when almost none existed. His decades long friendships in the artworld include Frank Gehry, Tony Berlant, Vija Celmins, Alexis Smith, Joe Goode, and James Hayward.
A Buddhist practitioner since 1978, Moses worked 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.”
Moses preferred the simple descriptive “painter” or “mark maker” to that of “artist”. Likewise, he eschewed being called “creative”, as he sought to make paintings that were evidence of the journey, rather than preconceived manifestations of a “creative” process. He noted that his life and art were about “exploring the phenomenal world” and never adhered to any singular art movement or style. Rather he continued to experiment, embracing transformation and change.
“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.”
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. As he entered his 90s he showed little signs of slowing down, painting daily as he had done for decades outdoors in his Venice studio, and attending numerous exhibitions of his work at various venues throughout the city. In a recent interview at his studio on the occasion of his 90th birthday with LA Times reporter Deborah Vankin, he remarked “I’m full of.. vinegar today. You caught me on a good day!”
His first museum shows were in 1976 - a drawings show of works 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, which marked a transitional moment in his career. While drawing was prominent in his work in the 1960s and early 70s, by the mid 70s, Moses turned primarily to painting.
He was the subject of a major retrospective at MOCA Los Angeles in 1996, and in 2014 he showed at University of California Irvine where he had taught in the seventies. On the occasion of his 2015 drawing show at LACMA of works from the 1960s and 70s, organized by Leslie Jones, 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.
Moses’ work is included in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Hammer Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Commenting on his passing, William Turner noted: “With his shock white mane and beard, Ed was a striking presence and familiar face on the LA arts scene he helped create. He was a force of nature, whose loss will be deeply felt by all who knew, loved and revered him. It has been a tremendous honor to have worked with him so closely and actively in his final years.”
Ed Moses is survived by his wife, Avilda Moses; son Cedd Moses and his family Pamela, Maxwell and Violet; and son Andy Moses and his wife Kelly Berg.
A memorial celebrating the life of Ed Moses is being planned for the spring.