Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Douglas Messerli | "A Different Kind of Light" (on the drawings from the 1960s and 70s by Ed Moses)

a different kind of light
by Douglas Messerli

Ed Moses Ed Moses: Drawings from the 1960s and 70s, curated by Leslie Jones / The Los Angeles County Museum of Art / I attended this exhibition with Pablo on May 18, 2015

As Prints and Drawings curator Leslie Jones makes clear in her introduction to the catalogue of the new show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ed Moses: Drawings from the 1960s and 70s, the art of Ed Moses seems almost to be a contradiction of what we might imagine for one so closely associated with the famed Ferus gallery artists. The four major artists gathered together by Ed Kienholz and Walter Hopps in 1957, were characterized by the purposefully provacative title of the gallery’s 1964 exhibition, The Studs. Moses was shown along with Robert Irwin, Ken Price, and Billy Al Bengston in a grouping that seemed to point up that the new Los Angeles art—the “L. A. Look” as it came to be called—derived from the light and space of the landscape, from the Angeleno culture of the car, surf, and aerospace industry, featuring art that was, as Jones writes “technologically sophisticated, flawlessly executed, and clean (as well as transparent).” The work was nearly entirely about lustrous and light emanating through the gleam of machine-like products. The drawings of Ed Moses during the same period clearly represented a different kind of “light.”

      Moses work was more often described as “modest” and “delicate,” consisting of what even he described as “goddamned valentines,” graphite drawings and rubbings with colored pencil that referred to the abstractions of painters before him such as Arshile Gorky and Philip Guston, even Mondrian. 
      Moses’ work of this early period, moreover, instead of boldly declaring the contours of his images, primarily erased them, defining his subject matter by the absence of line rather than its assertion, such as in works as One Potato Three Potato (of 1961-63) and Mask (1962), which references Thomas Eakins’ Study of a Seated Nude Woman Wearing a Mask
    Many of Moses works were indeed like valentines, featuring roses  chrysanthemums and lilies, often set against a background in cut-out abstractions like the “pop up” Swedish greeting cards he had come upon during this period.
      Even more in opposition to the artworks of the others of the so-called “Studs,” which in their glistening surfaces seemed to have been untouched by human hands, Moses’ works drew attention to his intense use of the graphite pencil and scissors, as in his Kaw works, organic, somewhat birdlike forms that hover and float over his surfaces, evidence of an almost maddening attention to detail and pattern in a way that might even remind one somewhat of Martin Ramirez, except that rather than presenting his patterns with ribbon-like visual clarity, Moses seems as much interested in what isn’t there, in what he has left out.
       Conversely, in works related to the Navajo blankets introduced to the artist in the early 1960s by artist-friend Tony Berlant, Moses in fascinated with leaving things in the work, such as the so-called “lazy lines”—diagonal lines or interruptions in the weave of a blanket as it is pieced together over time. Later he extended the idea of the rugs’ horizontal lines and the vertical “lazy lines,” by taping the parts together and leaving the tape upon the canvas to suggest the process itself. In short, Moses seemed to be working in a direction throughout this period that pushed away from and even against his fellow Ferus gallery friends.

    In the context of contemporary post-modern art, however, it is Moses’ “valentines” and rug-influenced drawings that now seem more radical than the machine-like constructions of his peers. His emphasis on pattern and detail demonstrate the hand of the artist at work and remind us his obvious passion in his creations. As White puts it, in hindsight, we can now see his later gridded paintings as “pictures of drawing ideas,” and we perceive the true importance of these drawings from early in his career.

Los Angeles, June 2, 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment