Thursday, November 8, 2012


Anyone who has been around the Los Angeles art world for the past… um, sixty years can’t fail but be astonished by the way in which Ed Moses—dare I call him the “dean” of Southern California painters without provoking his ire?— continues to produce great bodies of work that are, at once, entirely coherent in relation to what has gone before and yet entirely new, unlike anything we have seen.  The “Crackle Paintings,” currently on view at Patrick Painter Inc., are no exception.  These large, masterful new works dominate the gallery space with their authoritative presence, engaging the eye and mind in delighted contemplation. 

The “Crackle Paintings” appear to result from the application of a monochrome base color—blue, green, red, black…—followed by a second, different monochrome layer that is allowed to shrink and crack in the manner of a ceramic crackle glaze, only on vastly greater scale (the paintings range in width and height from 60 inches up to more than 90 inches, respectively.)  It’s a process that, as always with Moses’s work, leaves much to chance, and likely costs a good many discarded canvases.  But those he keeps—and shows here—are simply spectacular...

(The reproductions, in this instance, convey little of the imposing quality of these paintings.  Click on them and, all being well, you should get a larger but still only notational view.)  The effects of the crackling are unpredictable and multifarious.  There is no monotony, no self-repetition.  We get the sense that each new painting is a new exploration of possibility, a new throw of the dice that produces effects that are gloriously evocative and, at the same time, have that indefinable feel of necessity, as though they have simply been allowed to become what they were always destined to be.  They have, so to speak, found themselves through the action of an artist whose seeming ease with his medium belies long years of practice.

The artist himself was at the opening I attended.  Moses yields nothing to emotion or artistic intention.  “I don’t want to express myself,” he told me.  (I think I quote him almost to the letter.)  “I don’t want to be creative. I don’t even want to be an artist.  I just want to be a painter.”   No matter his intention, his impressive energy explodes on canvas and communicates itself powerfully to the viewer.  This old dog never fails to teach himself new tricks.

The younger dog I refer to in my title is my friend Richard Bruland, exhibiting concurrently at the nearby Lora Schlesinger Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.  (I identify him as my friend only in the interest of disclosure.)  Richard’s work has something in common with Ed Moses: he lays down his paint (in Richard’s case on wooden panels) in multiple layers, then painstakingly scrapes and sands the surface down, creating a crackled effect in which all those layers reveal themselves in an intricate, microscopic honeycomb of patterns, tiny, rhythmical nuclei whose lyrical musicality creates a complex dance for the observing eye...

"Citrinitas, 2012, acrylic/panel, 18" x 18"

Malala, 2012, acrylic/panel 30" x 30"

In Bruland’s work we get engaged in both the minutiae and, standing back, in the overall effect—a movement, most frequently, from misty light to darkness in a variety of directions across the surface of the painting.  The result can provide the eye with a suggestion of the stability of landscape (as in "Citrinitas," above), or leave us dizzy and off-balance, searching for points of reference in untethered space.  It can evoke both the vast reaches of the universe with its countless galaxies and gaseous interstices or, equally well, the restless activity of the subatomic world. 

It’s Bruland’s ability to work the ground between micro- and macrocosm that lends his paintings their individuality and a sense of gravitas beyond the purely sensual appeal.  His process is a clear reflection of his intention, a continuing search for what is hidden in the layers of paint, and what stands to be revealed with patience and sustained attention.  I like his choice of titles, too—perhaps because they are as mysterious to me as the paintings: “Sim Sala Bim,” “Malala,” “Minyan”… I catch hints of musical references here and there, and the words themselves share some of the musicality of the paintings.  Perhaps that’s it.  Knowing that the artist is a big fan of music of all kinds, it makes sense that his visual work reflects that predilection and the extensive knowledge that goes along with it.

Also at Bergamot Station, at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, a not-to-be-missed exhibition of the (mostly) tiny ceramic works of Kathy Butterly.  The collection is called "Lots of Little Love Affairs," and you can see why.  Each tiny creation is clearly a work of love.  Working with conventional pottery shapes, she stresses them wildly, somewhat in the manner of the great eccentric potter of Biloxi, Mississippi, George Ohr, to create appealingly vulnerable, misshapen, mutant things that tug at the heart even as they entrap the eye in their intricacies.  Erotic and playful, they flirt cheerfully with disaster and flaunt their indulgence in gorgeous, gleaming color and fantastic frills.  A pure delight.  If you can’t make it to the show, check out the display on the gallery’s website, here.  You’ll be amazed.

1 comment:

CHI SPHERE said...

Although I have not spent any time with Ed for years I did have several intense years of interaction with him while I was chair of sculpture at UCLA during the early eighties. We served on The MOCA Artists Advisory Council together with many other LA artists from !979 to 1983.

Ed was painting diagonal grids of intersecting parallel brushed bands of color then. A black and red one from that period is in the permanent collection of MOCA and is on view now at MOCA Grand. Ed taught attitude and honesty at UCLA or wherever he taught.

Ed can see and smell chicken shit art made for markets one light year away. Artists who make a career of being an artist make him nauseous. For Ed painting is the reason he gets up in the morning. It is his life and I consider him to be one of the greatest living painters of our time. "Paint has a life of it's own and I like to let it live", Jackson Pollack said. Ed does go through many gallons of paint before letting one live and go out into the world to be seen. Every day he works he has no idea what will occur and does not want to have any preconceived concept. Sure he does select color, viscosity, scale, proportion, method of application but after that it is pure painting that occurs.

The monumental paintings of Fan K'uan, abstract paintings of Ellsworth Kelly and Agnes Martin and Morris Louis are other examples of work that are staggering for their apparent effortless execution. Ed lived near these last two giants of abstraction in NYC,

The discoveries and the journey are what remain most important to this wise and courageous non objective process painter. His honesty, love of painting and sincere appreciation of beauty has left the history of art a body of work that will continue to stand the test of time.

Ed will never repeat himself for authenticity does not allow chicken shit to exist in his studio or in his life.