The prolific abstract expressionist Ed Moses, who was one of the founding members of a collective known as the “Cool School” and helped transform Los Angeles from a cultural backwater to a major force in the world of modern art, has died. He was 91.
Moses died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles’ Venice Beach section with his family by his side, his son Andy Moses told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The elder Moses, who produced hundreds of paintings and drawings and whose work was the subject of countless exhibitions during a career spanning more than 60 years, continued to work almost daily until about two weeks ago when his health began to fail.
“He never ceased to push the envelope and he stayed so engaged in painting every step of the way,” his son, a prominent artist himself, said Thursday. “He was a true explorer and he was just able to pull it off every time. Most artists sort of struggle through transitional periods and he didn’t have any transitional periods. He would abruptly stop one body of work, start another and have it fully realized.”
Moses had his first major exhibition in 1958 at the legendary Ferus Gallery in Hollywood where he became a member of the gallery’s post-World War II “Cool School,” a group of artists which put Los Angeles on the artistic map both for their outsized talents and personalities. Other members included Ed Ruscha, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Edward Kienholz, Larry Bell, John Altoon and Wallace Berman.
Over the next 60 years, Moses would work tirelessly, transitioning from one style to another.
“The rational mind constantly wants to be in charge,” he once said. “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.”
Early in his career, he gained attention for his “Rose Drawings,” the result of tracing rose patterns he found on an oilcloth from Tijuana, Mexico, and repeating them until they created dense abstract fields that spread out seemingly endlessly. One piece in the collection of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art covers a folding, four-piece panel.
Later he embraced processed-based art, working with different materials to create stunning works.
In 2016, the year he turned 90, he debuted a series of craquelure paintings that he created by placing black or white paint on a canvas, adding what he called a “secret sauce,” letting it dry and then hitting the canvas with his fist or elbow.
The institutions that hold his works include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Hammer Museum, the New York and San Francisco’s Museums of Modern Art and New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.
“Ed Moses has been central to the history of art making in Los Angeles for more than half a century,” the Los Angeles County museum’s director, Michael Govan, said during a major exhibition of his drawings in 2015.
Born in Long Beach, California, on April 9, 1926, Edward Moses was conceived in Hawaii by parents who split up before he was born. He said he rarely saw his father, who remained in Hawaii after his mother moved to California.
Although he would say in later years he was born to be an artist, he briefly pursued a medical career after serving as a surgical technician in the Navy during World War II.
After leaving the military, he enrolled in a pre-med program at Long Beach Community College but dropped out after he said he struggled with the curriculum. Before he left campus, however, he took an art class whose instructor persuaded him art was his true calling.
Enrolling at the University of California, Los Angeles, he would go on to earn a master’s degree in fine art. He was a graduate student in 1958 when he had his first Ferus Gallery exhibition.
Later he would teach at UCLA and the University of California, Irvine, where one of his students was abstract artist Chris Burden, whose stunning “Urban Light” work stands outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In addition to his son, Moses is survived by his wife, Avilda; another son, Los Angeles hospitality entrepreneur Cedd Moses; and two grandchildren.
The family plans a celebration of his life sometime in the spring.