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29 Jan 2018

Two Generations of Abstract Excellence: Art Palm Springs Honors a Southern California Father-and-Son Duo as Artists of the Year

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Andy Moses with “Circumnavigation 1402,” 2018, acrylic on six-sided plexiglass support, 57 by 70 by 16 inches. Andy Moses with “Circumnavigation 1402,” 2018, acrylic on six-sided plexiglass support, 57 by 70 by 16 inches. Photo by Alan Shaffer

A note from the editor: As we were going to press with this story in our February print edition, we learned that Ed Moses had passed away, on Wednesday, Jan. 17—just five days after I interviewed Andy. He was 91 years old.

In tribute to Ed Moses, we’re presenting this story as-is. Our thoughts go out to Andy and the rest of the Moses family. —JB


Ed Moses (right) is 91 years old. He’s been one of Southern California’s foremost abstract painters for more than 60 years, and although he’s slowing down just a bit, he continues to paint in his Venice studio almost every day.

Andy Moses is 55 years old. After deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an artist, he left Southern California after earning his degree at the California Institute of the Arts, and headed to New York City to create his own career path. In 2000, he returned home to California, and today creates his “simultaneously abstract and representational” works just a short walk away from where his father works.

In February, these two renowned artists will be honored as the Artists of the Year at the annual Art Palm Springs art show and convention, taking place at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The show has grown significantly each year since its start in 2012, and this year will feature nearly 80 galleries from four continents.

The Independent recently spoke to Andy Moses about the Artist of the Year honor he’s sharing with his father, Ed; here is an edited version of our conversation.

Congratulations on being named the Artist of the Year. Tell me a little bit about what that means to you as an artist.

Well, I’m a huge fan of Art Palm Springs. I think they’ve given this award to amazing artists over the years. I’m very happy to be in that mix. It gives me an opportunity to showcase my newest work at a solo booth, and I’ll be unveiling some of my very newest collections for the first time.

I’m going to be exhibiting the largest painting I’ve ever made. It’s called “Strange Attraction,” which is nearly 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide. I’ll also be showing for the first time these new three-dimensional paintings called “Circumnavigations.” I’ll be exhibiting at least one of those in the fair.

I’ve got a lot of history in the desert. … I feel like the desert right now has so much going for it. I think the Palm Springs Art Museum has been great for many years. I think Desert X was a huge boon to the desert in terms of art.

I’ve been showing with Melissa Morgan (Fine Art, in Palm Desert) since 2006. I’ve had an exhibition every year for the last 12 years. This is a way to extend my audience out there. Some of my favorite collectors are out in the desert.

How does it feel to be sharing this award with your dad?

It’s really amazing. We’ve had a couple of opportunities in the past to exhibit our work together. We did a show back in 2002 at a gallery in Los Angeles called Double Vision, and then we did a show through Arts Manhattan, curated by Homeira Goldstein, in 2008. This is another opportunity to showcase our work together and to show some of the connections.

We’ve each been on our own path from day one, but … I moved back to L.A. in 2000. I was living in New York. (Since) I moved back in 2000, my studio has been one block from my father’s. We get to visit each other’s studios. There’s a lot of interaction. Getting to kind of understand each other and understand each other’s work over the last 17 years has been amazing. This is a great opportunity to show some of those connections. We each have our own zone. You’ll definitely see the connections and definitely see the differences.

Absolutely.

He’s a much more gestural painter, a mark-maker. He wants to make things that really jolt you. My work has always interfaced a little more with the natural world—and its transcendent beauty and shifting light that I’m after.

Tell me a little bit about the pluses and minuses of following in your father’s footsteps as an artist.

It started out mostly as minuses. I went to Cal Arts in the late ’70s early ’80s. There was an awareness among the other students that I was the son of a painter, and that invited a lot of unnecessary tension, because I was really just trying to develop my own work.

I moved to New York in the early ’80s. I worked for a painter named Pat Steir. There were a lot of galleries even then that felt apprehensive. I actually had galleries tell me that there’s no such thing as a good second-generation artist.

Wow.

I felt like there were more barriers than anything, and my father—he’s quite a personality, and he’s rubbed some people the wrong way over the years, as much as everyone loves him.

I really dug in, though, and developed my work. I was actually fortunate enough to start showing there in 1987 for the gallery called Annina Nosei, and that started to kind of turn the tide. I feel like some of the people who were very skeptical started to come around and really embrace what I was doing on my own. … Now, I feel like because of him and because of each other, we know so many more people, so it’s nothing but a positive.

How is your dad doing, by the way?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if he’ll be able to make it out. He’s going to do his best. He is 91; he’ll be 92 in April. He still manages to get outside where he works. He works a little bit every day, but his general strength is not so good. It’s hard for him to sit in a car for that long. But we’re going to try. We’re definitely going to try.

Heck, I don’t even like to sit in the car for two hours.

Well, he wants to come out, and he is very excited. He asks me about it all the time: “When is the show coming up that we’re doing together?” He’s very excited.

How did he feel about being named the Artist of the Year?

He loved it, and he loved the fact that we were being named co-Artists of the Year together. He thought that was really extra-special.

He’s become such a big fan of my work over the last 10 years, so it’s very endearing. It’s just amazing to watch his development, because it never ends. He’s always shifting, always moving into new directions, always experimenting. To watch someone who’s in their 80s and 90s doing that, it really sets the bar high. It’s pretty amazing.

Tell me a little bit about your work. I’m fascinated by the fact that your works aren’t just some type of paint on some type of canvass; you talk about using chemical reactions. How would you describe your work to a layman like me?

I feel that my work is at the intersection of abstract painting and natural phenomenon, and I’m interested in both of those and actually how they connect. I’ve set up experiments in my studio where I allow paint to flow in these very organic ways. I’m overseeing it and directing it, but I really allow paint to kind of do its thing, and when it does its thing, it seems to want to (become) these images that really represent nature and infinite landscapes—boulder-ous forms and water meeting sky.

The one thing I’ve always been interested in is this notion of the infinite—looking out into something that just goes on and on. I think that my love of the desert comes from that, because there are these infinite landscapes that you see out there, and the light is ever-shifting. I’m also trying to kind of capture that light that’s fleeting, that’s shifting, that’s changing, because I feel like when you look at one of my paintings, it’s kind of an arrested moment, and you feel like that in the next moment, it could shift and shift again. I want them to feel very electric, very alive, and very much about light and space—infinite space.

Walk me through an anecdote on how, in your words, you’ve allowed the paint to flow in organic ways, and how that’s turned out with one of your works.

The work that I’ve been making since about 2007 and 2008 has all been made with floating colors of acrylic paint in containers, one on top of the other, in these very elaborate ways. So much of what the painting ends up looking like is (a result of) what I do in the preparation of these colors. Then I’m literally flowing it out onto a flat surface and moving the paint as well as moving the surface. I watch the paint sort of move across in these rivers, and then I can direct it in various ways. It’s very much an interactive process, where I need to see where it’s going, and then I respond to that. Then (the paint) responds by flowing in another direction, and I respond to that, all the way through until essentially, I’ve achieved the image.

I have some ideas of what I want the image to be, but it really galvanizes in the act of making the painting. Then I have to decide exactly when it’s finished, and I can basically arrest the movement at that point. It dries after about three or four days. I work inside a tent, so no bugs get in paintings while I’m working on them.

You do this outdoors in a tent?

I actually do it indoors in a tent.

How long, from start to finish, does a work take to finish?

It’s got to be done in one six- or eight-hour session. It has to be done, because there’s no going back. The part of my painting that takes by far the most time is preparing these mixtures of colors. It’s very elaborate how they get done, and that can take up to, on a large painting, three or maybe up to four weeks.

You mentioned that you’re excited about showing off some of your new works, including your largest work to date. How are these works different from what you’ve done in the past?

The largest painting I’ll be exhibiting is a double-stack painting, so it’s actually two panels, one on top of another. It creates one image together, but there’s a very distinct split. … It kind of tweaks your mind a little bit, because it’s a complete image, and you have the function as separate panels as well. It’s an image of what feels like a large, floating orb. It could be like a large boulder or shape that seems to be defying gravity.

That’s cool.

I’m really excited about this painting. Then I’m showing another painting that comes 18 inches off the wall. … It’s half of a dodecagon—half of a 12-sided object, basically. So it’s flat against the wall, but then the thick sides come out at angles to each other. It’s actually a hexagon, but it’s really half a dodecagon, because if the thick sides continued around the back, you’d have like a complete circle, if that makes sense.

Are these more three-dimensional types of work new for you?

I’ve been working on convex and concave canvases going back to 2002, but they were never more than about 6 or 7 inches deep. I’ve always been interested in the shape as well as the image on the surface, and basically, I’m interested in how the shape and the surface create a third image, if you will. There’s a real interface between what’s happening. There’s also a push-pull. What I like about these new six-sided paintings is that they’re projecting volumes of space, but the illusory space in the painting is actually receding. So, you’ve got one aspect pushing and one pulling back in the space. There’s kind of a tug-of-war, and again, it does something quite interesting when you’re looking at it, because your mind doesn’t really know which way to process it.

Do you have any overarching goal for what a viewer feels or how they react when they see your work? Or is it just up to the viewer themselves?

It’s up to the viewer themselves, but I definitely am interested in these transcendent moments where you see the convergence of elemental things happening, and it kind of creates a peak experience, if you will. I want it to be mesmerizing and really take you on a journey in your own mind—a journey into the infinite.

Is there anything else about your appearance at Art Palm Springs that you want to talk about?

I’ve been exhibiting at Art Palm Springs almost every year since its inception, so I’m a huge fan. … Some of my favorite collectors are out there. There’s a real renewed energy in Palm Springs right now. It feels the most vibrant. I’ve been coming (to the Coachella Valley) now since the early 2000s, and it feels like it’s the most alive in every way, but especially in the art world, than it’s ever been.

Art Palm Springs takes place Thursday, Feb. 15, through Monday, Feb. 19, at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, in Palm Springs. Tickets start at $25. For tickets or more information, visit www.art-palmsprings.com.

Below top: “Cat Who A-1” by Ed Moses, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 78 by 66 inches. Below bottom: “R.A.D. 1603” by Andy Moses, 2017, acrylic on polycarbonate, mounted on parabolic vertical concave wood panel, 61 by 80 inches.

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