It’s hard to imagine anyone making art for half a century without resorting to comfortable formulae at some point. But then, Ed Moses is no ordinary painter. He is an enigma driven by passion for the process and by what he describes as “a primal fear.”
Born in 1926 in Long Beach, he is an abstract expressionist who does not express but strives to discover, not “create” but rather participate in the process of painting. He is a producer of paintings that he wants viewers to respond to, rather than interpret, and he is a 35-year student of Buddhism who, rather than seeking commercial success, makes art that meets his own standards.
“I only keep maybe one out of ten [paintings],” he says. The survivors somehow induce a “wow” moment, a response that, however briefly, stops him in his tracks. It is a reaction that involves awe and affirmation, satisfaction and even a measure of disbelief. Such a response can also be elicited by anything else that is beautiful, he explains—women, automobiles, nature and art, either of his own making or of someone else’s.
At age 82, he still works in his studio every day, transforming as many as six canvasses with a complete willingness to let chance dance. “I explore” he explains. “Painting is my medium of discovery; I am a process painter.” His openness to chance is bolstered by the fact that a large segment of his studio is outdoors, where he paints.
He admires Renaissance painters. “Ever since I was a young painter, that idea of letting the form emerge from process has been continually important,” he says.
He says that, when he paints, a metamorphosis can happen—a discovery. “I explore the possibilities of the phenomenal world through paint. The process of painting stands as a metaphor for life, my own existence,” he says, coining the word “phenomenonologist” for himself.
Moses began his career at the legendary Ferus Gallery as one of the “Cool School,” a group of young artists who embodied the brash youth of 1950s Los Angeles. Then, Moses experimented with line, form and density.
Today, he is as outspoken as ever. During the 2006 opening hoopla of Los Angeles 1955-1985: Birth of an Art Capital at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Moses reportedly set attending glitterati straight on a couple of salient points: he reminded the crowd that artists, not Los Angeles, created the now finally acknowledged scene and that not all of them are young, either.