Ed Moses “Through the Looking Glass” | William Turner Gallery

by Andrés Gudiño

The William Turner Gallery will be showing the first exhibition from the late Ed Moses since his passing a year ago. Ed Moses: “Through the Looking Glass” will be on display from January 26-March 30, 2019. The opening reception will take place on Saturday, January 26, 2019, 6-8pm featuring an overview of Moses’ last period. The exhibition will contain a selection of works produced during the last five years of his life, taking inspirations from one of Moses’ favorite authors Lewis Caroll.

The works presented showcases a legendary career filled with unique stylistic approaches marking various periods in his career. Most poignant was Moses’ unique approach to painting in order to discover instead of express. This drive of restless curiosity is prevalent throughout the exhibition.

For over 60 years Moses experimented and honed his love for abstract paintings. He was not ready to slow down anytime soon even as he entered his 90’s he continued to leave his mark on the contemporary art world. Ahead of the opening we were able to speak with gallery owner and friend William Turner

How do you think Ed Moses, and specifically this exhibition, pushed the boundaries of abstract?                                                 

 I’m most fascinated with how Ed pushed the boundaries in his own work, throughout his career. He is well known for his iconoclastic approach to painting, which resisted easy categorization. There is no one style or body of work that defined him. His work was continually evolving. When people asked why his work often changed so much, he’d say, “I don’t change, I mutate”. And yet there is an unmistakable charge, a life-force, that runs through the whole of his work that is uniquely, identifiably his, no matter how different one painting or work might appear from another. 

This exhibition is intended to showcase that energy and celebrate how tremendously inventive and adventurous Ed’s work continued to be through the last five years of his life and career. 

How do you think Ed Moses elevated and questioned contemporary art?                                                                                    Ed Moses was a force of nature, obsessed with painting, which he described as that primal urge to leave one’s mark, to speak to the tribe, to say; “I exist. I was here.” 

I’m not sure how to respond to how Ed elevated and questioned contemporary art, but Ed definitely questioned his own work, at one point asking himself why he was doing this.  “Are you a decorator? Are you an artist? What are you? I said, I'm not any of those things. I do what I do in response to my awareness of living."

Seeking insight into his compulsion to paint, at one point Moses took a trip to the source – to the cave paintings in Lascaux. He has another wonderful quote that I find illuminating about how he saw himself and his purpose after that journey.

“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, of magic men, 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’s work was not about self-expression. Rather, he saw his work as evidence, artifacts from the journeys on which he embarked through the process of painting or drawing.

Ed was fully and authentically committed to the path he was on, which meant that he was willing to take chances, to fall flat on his face, to fail. I loved and admired that about him and I think that’s what ignites so much of the energy in his work. It feels daring and risky. He had a very Zen-like approach, painting in the moment, without pre-conception.

Why do you think it is important to showcase Moses’ career?

Moses was one of LA’s best known and most important artists throughout his long and storied career.

You can’t really talk about the history of contemporary art in LA without referencing Ed Moses, Ferus Gallery and Ed’s friends and fellow artists. All of them are among LA’s artistic legends and cultural icons:  Frank Gehry, Billy Al Bengsten, Robert Irwin, Ed Keinholz, John Altoon, Craig Kaufman, Larry Bell, Ken Price, Ed Ruscha, Tony Berlant, Chuck Arnoldi, Peter Alexander, and so on.

I think it’s important to showcase them all. We have such a wealth of tremendous talent in Los Angeles, from Ed’s generation and younger generations. I’m just in the lucky position of getting to showcase Ed Moses right now. 

Instead of selecting pieces throughout his sixty years of artistry, why are these last five years presented in Through the Looking Glass an important staple in Moses’ illustrious career?  
In 2016, we presented MOSES@90, an ambitious survey of Ed’s work that spanned seven decades of artistic output. It was held in my gallery and in the old Santa Monica Museum space next door. It was a huge success. This show’s survey of work from Ed’s last five years is intended to highlight the tremendous range and inventiveness of his last period.

How do you think this installation differs from Ed Moses: Now and Then?  What can we learn about the artist’s process and his technique in this exhibition that we haven’t seen in his previous work? 

Most of the work in Through the Looking Glass was done since that earlier exhibition and reveals an artist fully engaged, working in the moment, embracing a career’s worth of stylistic approaches, while incorporating new ones. Several of the paintings incorporate graceful looping lines in their compositions, the result of Ed dipping the wheels of his walker in paint, with which he then painted. They are fantastic.

Why is it important to remember contemporary art, especially in a posthumous context such as Through the Looking Glass?

Once the artwork leaves the studio, it lives in the world, whether the artist is living or not. For me, it’s not about remembering, it’s about experiencing, about tuning in to the work. Ed said something of interest on this.

"I don't paint for myself. I'm against the idea of expressing myself, being creative, that's another word I really hate. I paint for you all. What I do is for these paintings to be seen, and they are like metaphors of life. I feel that a real person that does this taps into his existence."

Do you agree with Ed Moses’ idea that art is an escape to other, more magical realms that we cannot find in day-to-day life?                                                                                                     Not an escape - just the opposite – an invitation. The work is an invitation to shift your frame of reference and perspective, to see hidden dimensions and the magic that exists in everyday life. The title of the exhibition is from Lewis Carroll, one of Moses’s favorite writers, and refers to one of the artist’s fundamental beliefs – that art, at its best, is a portal to the unknown, through which one is transported to magical realms. Artists open the doors, it’s up to us to tune in and walk on through.

What do you think made Moses’ art critical to the contemporary artworld?                                                                                                         There’s the importance of the work itself, and then there’s the example he set – of a person committing to a path and pursuing it to a remarkable degree. If you look at how out of step Moses may have seemed during certain periods of his career - doing intense graphite drawings on paper during the early Pop Art period, for instance, his dedication to his path is even more impressive.

What makes a work of art contemporary? How can artwork be categorized as contemporary art?

There’s lots of ink on this but basically contemporary art is contemporaneous to our time and in some manner pushing the conversation forward.

Maybe we can dig into this further at the gallery over a nice glass of wine as you take in the show!

Written by Niza Metoyer

Interview by Andrés Gudiño

Art images courtesy of William Turner Gallery