Ed Moses On New Work The Poet and the Jabberwocky, Painting in Four Dimensions, Alice in Wonderland and Marilyn Monroe's Butt
|David Hume Kennerly|
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.
The "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."
Asked 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!"
"I 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.
Moses 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.
He 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.
A 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.
Back 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.
Not 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. Follow @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter.