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Grid Alternatives: Artist Ed Moses at 90 

Wednesday, Jul 27 2016
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In 1961, painter Ed Moses lived in the same Fillmore Street apartment building as a spate of other artists, including Jay DeFeo, Wally Hedrick, Joan Brown, and Manuel Neri. All of them would eventually gain national and international art-world prominence. At the time, though, the Los Angeles native Moses was having trouble getting solo exhibits in his newly adopted hometown, despite his success with one gallery: the Dilexi on Union Street. Neri, who had lived in the Bay Area for a decade, gave Moses a blunt assessment.

"I was whining to Manuel Neri that I wasn't getting any action," Moses recalls, "and he said, 'This is not your town, Ed. This is our town. Why don't you move back to L.A., where you came from?' "

A few days later, Moses did leave for Los Angeles, where he has remained ever since, establishing a career that has famously veered into many different realms of abstract drawing and painting. Moses has experimented — successfully — with such materials as graphite, crayon, acrylic, wood panel, resin, and even crushed newspaper. His new exhibit at Brian Gross Fine Art finds him returning, at age 90, to a style of abstraction that he first visited in the 1970s: the grid. Through Moses' brush strokes, the grid becomes layer atop layer of crisscrossing forms that intersect, submerge, and radiate with shadows and symmetry. A work like Wal-La, with its connections of reds, yellows, whites, and charcoals, becomes a striking maze of triangles and rectangles — a kind of geometric labyrinth that takes the art-goer's gaze in all directions.

Moses' grid paintings have a cursory connection to Cubism — Moses made a series of 1970s works that he gridded and labeled "Cubist" — and even to Buddhism, which Moses has actively studied and practiced for 50 years. They straddle the edges of abstraction.

"If you have worm or a caterpillar walking across a surface, and wherever it goes it leaves a mark — this is pretty much what you do with a pen or pencil on a page," Moses says in a phone interview from his studio. "If you go from one place to another, you leave an image, a mark — and marks are what establish the image. Does it have a reference? It could."

In the 10th decade of his life, Moses is showing few signs of slowing down — and the art world continues to shower him with honors and exhibitions, 35 years after he won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1980. He paints every day, getting up early in the morning and putting in hour after hour of work on new canvases. In the past year,the Los Angeles County Museum of Art showcased Moses' early work in "Ed Moses: Drawings from the 1960s and '70s." A current L.A. exhibit, "Moses@90," is going strong, and in the next several months he has shows in New York and Brussels.

Moses' exhibit at Brian Gross Fine Art,"ED MOSES: LA — SAN FRANCISCO," is his 12th with the gallery,but the first time he has exhibited grid paintings that are rectilinear — where the lines aren't slanting but standing up and down, and also horizontally. Moses says he's obsessive-compulsive — which in some people is a medical issue but in Moses is a gift, he says, that keeps him going, even as a nonagenarian with occasional health issues. At an early age, Moses played baseball and was never as good as observers wanted him to be because of this obsessive-compulsive behavior.

"I was an outfield player, and if I hit a rock with one foot, I had to go back and touch it with my other foot," he says. "People would say, 'Hey, Moses. What are you doing out there?' They laughed. They knew I was some kind of nut."

What Moses does on a canvas, he says, is almost primitive. Or, rather, it's intrinsic to what it means to be human.

"Every day I paint — unless I'm ill, and then I draw," says Moses, whose close friends in Los Angeles include Ed Ruscha, whom the de Young Museum is featuring in a major exhibit. "I like making marks. I once went to the cave paintings in the south of France, where there were all sorts of images laid down by staining, marking, scratching, scouring — and in all those areas [of painting], I like to explore, to see what happens this time. I like to look at what is right now — and not looking forward or backwards. Now is now."

When Lawrence Ferlinghetti spoke withSF Weeklyin 2013, he admitted he would choose painting over poetry if forced to decide on one of his two main artistic avocations. "Painting," he said then, "is more like play than work."

Ferlinghetti's love of painting (and words) is on display at Rena Bransten Gallery, which has organized a mini-retrospective through the theme of "love & war." Ferlinghetti criticizes the United States' (and the world's) propensity to use military might as a means of solving problems — as in The Howl, which he worked on from 2002 to 2013 and is an inspired take on Edvard Munch's The Scream and Allen Ginsberg's Howl, which Ferlinghetti published in book form in 1956. With its haunting central figure, escalated phrases(like "spectral nations!" and "monstrous bombs!"),and fissures of lightness and darkness, The Howl is a tense, almost apocalyptic panorama. Like Ed Moses, Ferlinghetti is in his 90s and still making work that speaks to the person he is and the times that he lives in.

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Jonathan Curiel

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