ED MOSES Making his mark
Photography by Gina Taro

“In college, I did a term paper,” says Ed Moses. “I went out and researched the subject and wrote little notes on all the ideas that intrigued me. I would read the first and last paragraphs of every chapter. Every once in a while if I got interested, I would go back and read in between, but most of the time I just poked around, collecting little gems and little cuts. I wrote them down and laid them all out flat on the floor. Then I took little pieces of paper and wrote little connectors or arrows from one thought to the next thought. The teacher gave me an ‘A’ for effort but an ‘F’ for the paper because I didn’t do it properly. I didn’t follow directions. It’s the story of my fucking life.”

In many ways, this story says it all. Moses has never followed the rules – personally or professionally. Instead, he has pushed his art in unconventional directions, constantly mutating, as he likes to call it. Moses and his famous temper have often derailed his career, and his paintings – like his thoughts – seem to explode out of nowhere. It’s not until you get to the punch line when you realize that, in a typically Moses kind of way, it all makes sense. Despite his insistence to the contrary, Moses was one of the best painters to come out of Los Angles in the early 1960s. His name is on the short list with the likes of Ed Ruscha, Craig Kauffman, Larry Bell, and Billy Al Bengston – all icons of the era.

Today, at 81 years old, Moses’ full head of hair and signature beard are a silvery gray, but he has lost nothing of the macho aggressiveness he was famous for in his younger years. The quintessential bad boy artist, Moses can turn on the charm when he wants to, but there is always an underlying tension. A conversation with Moses is like an intellectual tennis match with ideas being batted back and forth with increasing intensity and speed. He seems to like the game. Age hasn’t mellowed him much. He still gets mad, he still challenges, still flirts with the ladies whenever he gets the chance, and perhaps most importantly for him, still paints everyday. The one place he can sometimes find peace is an uneasy respite from the demons that torment the person but fuel the artist.

Moses’ home and adjacent studio are tucked away on a quiet residential block in Venice, just far enough away from the craziness of the beach to offer a little privacy, but close enough to the action to stay plugged in. Venice is home to a number of great artists and it’s hard to imagine Moses anyplace else. He was born in Long Beach, and minus a few short stints in New York, he has always lived in Southern California. The weather is a plus because Moses always paints outside. Large canvases – about a half dozen at a time – are laid out on the ground or on old paint-splattered sawhorses. Moses works on the flat horizontal surfaces, pushing and pulling paint across the canvas with a variety of tools: squeegees, mops, sponges, squirt bottles and his hands – but rarely a brush. “Painting is a kind of a visceral experience,” he says, comparing it to sex. “Painting is not making love by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have certain sensual characteristics. It has color and it has touch.”