Los Angeles painter Andy Moses creates works that immerse the viewer in a surfeit of swirling, vibrant colors, deriving luscious, nearly psychedelic effects from the sensuous interplay of mysterious organic forms, through meticulous application of acrylic and pearlescent paint. But the artist’s ‘Rosebud’ moment isn’t a mystery. “I was born and raised in Santa Monica Canyon, and grew up around the ocean, so I was always seeing these various effects of light on water,” he explains. “Seeing these effects, and the notion of light being something mercurial and shifting… I thought, if you could capture that in a painting, it would be compelling.”
The son of iconic LA painter Ed Moses, Moses has himself become something of an LA fixture over the last 15 years. But in fact, he only returned to Southern California in 2000, after nearly two decades in New York. A compact, 30-year survey at Santa Monica College’s Barrett Art Gallery is now bringing together both halves of Moses’ career, showing the full arc of his aesthetic evolution, accentuating both its lesser-known shifts and deep consistency of purpose.
As the child of one the Ferus Gallery’s leading lights, “I grew up obviously seeing the work of my father’s generation in the house I grew up in,” he recalls. “I remember there being works by Billy Al Bengston, Sam Francis, Ken Price, Larry Bell…” But his parents divorced when he was 14, and Moses went to live with his mother. In 1977, he attended CalArts, where he studied with such figures as Michael Asher, Barbara Kruger, and John Baldessari. Initially he studied film. But “once I got my hands wet into paint, and was able to see what it could do, I was hooked. The physicality, fluidity of the material spoke to me and became addictive.”
In 1981, Moses moved to New York, working as studio assistant for painter Pat Steir. Perhaps ironically for an artist known for his vivid palette, his early paintings were all black and white, mixed to produce an entire spectrum of gray. Presenting spare abstract blobs and dynamic all-over effusions, the works were highly process-oriented, reveling in the textures they derived from combining oil and acrylic paint. For several years he mixed his paint with coffee. By the early ‘90s, he was creating explosive abstractions that seemed to encompass both macro- and micro-cosmos, framed on either side by blown-up clippings of New York Times science columns. Yet even then, the works seemed evocative of physical forces or real-world phenomena. “I don’t consider myself an abstract painter,” Moses says. “My work has always tread the line between abstraction and something else… I’m setting up a process that parallels processes in nature.”
The 1980s in New York were an exciting time for painting; Moses was especially impressed by Kiefer, with his monumental, spacious, yet highly tactile canvases. A more historic role model was Pollock, not just because Moses also created his paintings on the floor but because of his active painting process that invited elements of chance. “When I think of his work, I think of the infinite, how dynamic it is,” Moses says. “Something that is not stable, not static, but moving.”
When Moses returned to LA in 2000, he found a way of flowing the paint on the canvas and began working purely in acrylic. At the same time, he returned to his source: “I had a shack on the beach in Malibu, the waves crashed under my shack,” he recalls. At first, he worked only in pearlescent white. But soon the work transformed, taking on aspects of abstracted landscape, with a bright horizon line in the middle and darker bands of color moving out toward the edges. In time he moved on to ever more lustrous permutations. He began to work on curved canvases, which created a sort of panorama to embrace the viewer. In 2007-08 he introduced shimmering swirls into the mix; in 2014, he moved from canvas to polycarbonate on panel.
Although Moses’ compositions may appear improvisational, in fact the works require extensive preparation. “It’s all pre-determined,” he explains. “Every color is chosen to go next to the color next to it.” He does numerous tests and studies for each piece, adjusting his color choices “til it hits me in the gut. I want it to affect me viscerally… With something like painting, I think you want to push a little harder than what you see in nature.” Each painting is a one-shot deal, created in a single session of up to six hours in his Venice studio. Thus, there is a distinct performative aspect to the process, which requires making decisions quickly and then committing to them while the paint is still wet.
Moses’ newer works, as seen in the group show “Strata” at William Turner Gallery in December, have introduced a new element—cryptic ovoid forms. Suggesting primitive rocks, eggs, eyes, or lenses, they add an enigmatic motif to work that has long flirted with a latent sci-fi undertone, pushing the most basic natural phenomena into the realm of the uncanny and the infinite. Which only highlights their fundamental paradox: despite their traditional embrace of paint, process, and the natural sublime, Moses’ works are undeniably trippy. Seemingly electrified and melting, yet still oddly soothing, his silken vistas evoke what it might feel like to drop acid with Josef Albers while orbiting the surface of Jupiter. A painterly paean to visual stimulation, they invite a physical response. Moses too sees his painting as a “very sensual experience. I want it to affect you in a certain way,” he adds. “I do want to take you on a sort of metaphysical journey.”
“Andy Moses: A 30-Year Survey” is on view at the Barrett Art Gallery at Santa Monica College, in Santa Monica, CA. February 14 – March 25, 2017. http://www.smc.edu/Barrett/
“Strata” could be seen at the William Turner Gallery, in Santa Monica, CA, from November 19, 2016 – January 7, 2017. http://www.williamturnergallery.com/
Homepage Image: Portrait of the artist in his studio, courtesy: the artist