Painter Ed Moses, sporting a gray/black beard and moustache and wearing paint-splattered clothes, opens the gate of his Venice home while rapidly inhaling what he identified as a marijuana cigarette. Later the cigarette will become part of a painting in progress sprawled on the cement platform that serves as his outdoor studio. He smokes to relax, he says, and then spends an hour and a half expounding intensely, but cheerfully, on his admittedly ambiguous philosophy of art.

Moses, a respected abstract painter who has been slugging it out on the Los Angeles art circuit for nearly 30 years, views himself as part magic man, part space cadet--but not an artist. He’s interested in discovering, not creating, and he refers to his work as artifacts, not art.

(Moses’ paintings on canvas and paper will be on exhibit at L.A. Louver’s two galleries in Venice, 55 N. Venice Blvd. and 77 Market St., through June 20.)


According to Moses, his work is a series of marks he puts down while attempting to lose control.

“Everyone in this culture is concerned with getting a handle on things,” says Moses, who is 61.

“I’m the opposite. I want to expose myself to being out of control, to experience the terror and anxiety that’s brought on by that situation and see what can happen. The one thing you can never shake is your terror--you can never cover it up. I’m mining the very thing most people spend their time getting away from.

“The rational mind constantly wants to be in charge. The other parts want to fly. My painting is the encounter between the mind’s necessity for control and its yearning to fly, to be free from our ever-confining skull.”

Since 1974, Moses’ battle with his demons has often raged on canvas through the juxtaposition of a black or red diagonal grid and the layers of color that protrude or recede from it.

Paintings in the L.A. Louver exhibits are also inhabited by worm-shaped swaths of pigment that Moses applies to canvas with a mop. Some of these marks, which Moses refers to as tracks or trails, squirm within the grid; others, he says, have been “liberated” from the grid format and occupy entire canvases.

“The grid is the armature which I hang the paint on,” he says. “That’s where it starts. Within the grid is the gesture of control. Then I have the choice of either demolishing the grid completely or breaking it open.

“The irregular gestural action of the tracks can take on some kind of form in mimicking the grid or completely fly loose in an uncontrollable action, float through space blindly. Without a grid, they can start setting up their own natural structure.”

A Long Beach native with a master’s degree from UCLA, Moses has been based in Venice since 1956, with sojourns in New York and Europe. He has experimented with style since first establishing himself in the late 1950s with Abstract Expressionistic drawings. In the late 1960s, he made environmental light and space works and a series of Minimalistic resin paintings. In the 1970s, along with refining his oil-and-acrylic-based grid paintings, he exhibited stark one-color panels. Moses, once considered a less than prolific artist, has burgeoned in recent years.

Along with the L.A. Louver show, his work is also included in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s inaugural exhibit, “Individuals,” and there is an exhibition of lithographs, monotypes and etchings at the Pence Gallery.

Despite heightened recognition and success, Moses is determined to stay true to his instincts.

“I paint for whoever. I’m a cipher. All I’m trying to do is keep straightforward, behave in a way that’s ordinary rather than strategically motivated. I’m not an expressionist. I’m not interested in expressing myself. I’m interested in discovering things through the meandering and chaos in the confusion of painting.”

As the interview concludes, the remainder of the cigarette accidentally drops into a can of paint. Moses pours the paint on the canvas, leaving the cigarette in the mixture.

“What’s hard is getting out on the platform (and painting) without any plan. . . . That’s the hardest thing--to work in a fashion that’s out of control. The only way magic can appear is when you are out of control. For me, painting is the vehicle to encounter this magic.”