Everyone has an Ed Moses story. Mostly these are about big and bold creative ideas, small and sweet notes for ways of living more fully, or just sharing a joint. Frequently all three. For Ed, you see, everything was connected. Better: for Ed, everything you see was connected. When he died in January at the age of 91, this year’s edition of the Art Palm Springs fair had already announced that he would be honored along with his son, the accomplished painter Andy Moses, as Artists of the Year. The plans went ahead, taking on the celebratory tone of a joyful memorial instead, with a renewed focus on a kind of torch-passing to the younger Moses, an artistic innovator whose style diverges from Ed’s, but whose restless spirit of investigation more than reflects his influence.
Both painters show with William Turner Gallery, who presented Ed’s landmark Moses @ 90 exhibition of 2016, and the subsequent Chance and Circumstance of 2017. As the gallery’s text on the latter exhibition notes, “The phrase ‘chance and circumstance’ has become something of a mantra for Moses. A student of Buddhism, he has made a career of fearlessly blazing down the path of the unknown. Driven by the metaphysical power of painting and its potential to transform, Moses bypasses the need to be in control and favors the idea of being in tune.” This ceaseless experimentation and deference to metaphysical forces resulted in Moses’ eclecticism, to say the least. An impactful 1996 survey of his work at MOCA highlighted this diversity in style, technique, material and process almost to a fault, with examples of his so-called grids, snails, lavas, sponges, draggings, circles, swoops, crackles, tarantulas and tars. “I make marks,” he said in a recent interview, “not pictures.” Ed did share with Andy what Peter Frank, speaking at the Fair’s Andy Moses interview panel, called “exploration rather than expression, a physical curiosity about what paint could do.” And in the past eight years, father and son—along with daughter-in-law, the talented painter Kelly Berg—lived next door to each other, enjoying daily studio visits and several exhibitions together.
In a filmed interview screened at the fair, Ed described the act of painting with “a blank mind,” like a meditation with paint. He spoke of coaxing and discovering, rather than expressing, manifestations of his Buddhist practice. “I know [a painting is] done,” he said, “when it lights up!” He was laid to rest in a Buddhist funeral, per his wishes, followed by a lively wake which was, naturally, attended by a who’s who of the LA art world of the last 70 years. Present were hundreds of friends, collectors, dealers, curators, writers, Ed’s two sons and their beautiful families, and what seemed to be all the artists that put LA, and in particular Venice Beach, on the map in the middle of the 20th century. The Cool School and Ferus Gallery crews were represented in as full a force as possible. There were stories, and small blessings—and joints. It’s like Ed said in that interview, “I exist to connect the tribe.”
Having received both the NEA grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and shown in Documenta, LACMA, MOCA, the Whitney Biennial and the Pompidou Center, his most cherished offerings, I’d still argue, were the dozen or so shows he perpetrated with Ernie & Diane Wolfe between December 1985’s Ed Moses and Vigango right through to January 2018’s Eddie M and the Fantastic Afterlife Vehicles (Ed’s last public appearance). Ernie and Diane remembered in a recent statement that the 2007 Mapiko: Musings From A-Far exhibition “explored the many shamanic demons and ‘faces’ Ed had encountered during his magical mystery tour through life. The realization that Ed carried this special kahuna DNA strain became all the more apparent to the artist himself in the 1990s, when he experienced the Caves of Lascaux with UCLA’s late, great curator-educator Henry Hopkins. Ed absolutely believed that his “mark-making,” and that shamanic DNA he possessed, were proof positive that he shared the blood lines of all those humans who are inevitably inclined to bear this magical and transcendent touch.” Everyone has an Ed Moses story.