This Memorial Day weekend marks 70 years of Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra’s free community concerts. On Saturday, May 23, at 7:30 p.m. celebrate SMYO’s season finale at the historic Barnum Hall on the campus of Santa Monica High School. Music director and conductor Guido Lamell presents Antoinette Perry on piano with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major.

You can help support SMYO’s commitment to free public concerts by attending their fundraising gala, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 31. It’s an intimate evening of chamber music by distinguished members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a private home, with limited seating and includes both pre-performance hors d’oeuvres and dinner following the performance. For tickets or simply to donate to this noble cause, visit http://www.smsymphony.org/give-support.

MOSES MANIA

Legendary local artist Ed Moses has been creating work at his Venice studio for many decades. At the age of 89, with a pacemaker keeping his ticker on track, his wit is still sharp. At a recent press event he joked, “I blackmailed LACMA that if they gave me a show, I’d give them a collection of my works.” And that’s just what he’s done.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents “Ed Moses: Drawings from the 1960s and 1970s,” alongside a splendid exhibition of drawings by L.A. artists of the same era, at LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum building (BCAM). It’s a great walk through L.A.’s art history in graphics.

Although Moses is perhaps best known for his deeply layered paintings of criss-cross diagonal lines, and lately the cracked and crevassed surfaces of his poignantly beautiful new works, these drawings mark the beginning of the process that informs his life’s work.

In a funny anecdote he shared at the press opening, you could say his path to becoming an artist began with finger painting. A pre-med student who found it impossible to memorize, Moses had never taken an art class, although he had studied mechanical drawing in high school.

He enrolled in a class at Long Beach City College with Pedro Miller, a teacher with a reputation as a bohemian phenomenon. Wearing a tweed jacket, the barefooted Miller lectured from an upside down wastebasket, setting up reproductions of works by 20th century contemporary artists such as Picasso and Braque around the perimeter of the classroom.

On the second day of class, he set up a Cezanne-like still life and told the students, “Okay, let’s see what you’re worth, start painting.” As the students held up their pencils to sight the work, Miller began walking around the classroom observing what they were doing.

Moses said he panicked, thinking, “I don’t know what I’m doing, I’d better get the hell out of here. But as the teacher got closer, as some kind of response I stuck my fingers in the wells of all these tempera paints, and ran them over the surface of my board. The others laughed but (Miller) looked at the board, then at me, and displayed it saying, ‘Now here’s a real artist.’ And he ruined my life, because I have been forever following in the footsteps of that comment.”

Later transferring to UCLA and studying anthropology, Moses realized he resonated with cave painters. Like early man, who saw “his footprint in mud or hand print on a wall, I liked the idea that in response to my existence, I have to leave behind a mark.” Moses said that scratches on the wall later led to drawings of bison, climbing up and over the cave walls and at the end, falling over backwards into nothingness.

Moses said this while standing in front of a series of drawings based on a flower pattern that he’d cut and traced from an oilcloth he found in Tijuana. He spoke about Jasper Johns, the artist renowned for flag paintings, who told him, “If you work from a pre-designed element, you can create abstractions within those boundaries.”

So Moses transferred the flower pattern repetitively and filled in the spaces with intensely incised lines of graphite. “I’ve always been in the box,” Moses said.¬† “I’ve trapped my environment so I wouldn’t slide off. I had to leave marks, compulsive marks, repetitive marks, pressing over and over again and I thought if I pressed hard enough (the cave painters) would expose themselves to me through some kind of magical shamanistic light. That didn’t happen. But now that I look at these, they look damn good. Do a thing long enough and enough times and it may happen.”

At UCLA he met Craig Kauffman, the artist who led him to Walter Hopps, who started the groundbreaking Ferus Gallery, which launched the Venice contemporary art scene. Moses was featured in the Ferus Gallery’s first exhibition and was part of the stable of artists whose post-war influence is still being felt.

Although he’s never been part of a specific art movement, Ed Moses considers these fellow artists part of his “tribe.” Even though he is among them, he stands apart as a maverick.

Beginning June 6 with an opening reception at 6:30 p.m., the William Turner Gallery at Bergamot Station is mounting a concurrent exhibition, “Ed Moses: Now and Then,” surveying works that span his career.

On June 9, Leslie Jones, the curator of the LACMA show, will talk about Ed Moses, his life and career.

Visit www.LACMA.org and www.williamturnergallery.com for full details on both exhibitions.

Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also written features and reviews for various publications.

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