New York

Ed Moses

Louver Gallery

In his paintings, Ed Moses aspires to a visionary activation of surface. He offers a dense painterliness that never quite congeals into a tight matrix, but maintains a certain airy look, for all its apparent grimness. Perhaps this is because the paint is typically applied in broad vertical (but not simplistically stripelike) bands. Moses uses sharply contrasting blacks and whites; their bleak effect is tempered by lush, squiggly red accents. One doesn’t expect a California artist to convey such intensity and forthright power, but Moses clearly has the courage of his painterly conviction.

The artist’s sweeping bands are particularly interesting, for they convey control in the very act of disinhibition; defensiveness in the very act of showing undefended feeling. The bands are not new for Moses, although they are more pronounced here than in earlier works. In 1988, Moses made paintings employing a kind of cross-hatching, as well as paintings of full-fledged red squiggles. In 1987, he painted plaidlike grids. The intensity of these works varies according to the distance between the crossing line gestures and their painterly spread. Moses is clearly an artist with a mixed vocabulary of gestures. More importantly, he means to reconcile gesture and geometry—abandon and order—by making a geometrical structure of gestures. He wants the timelessness of gesture and geometry to be simultaneous, to compound the ecstatic effects.

The current paintings seem less paradoxical than the earlier ones, which often set an atmospheric handling against a determined, if erratic, gesturalism. Even in the hyperintense Fred’s Vision, 1989, there are moments of atmospheric relief, as though Moses’ own spontaneity told him that all were not so grim. This work is of special interest for its right angle canvas, which carries the broad gestures into another realm, where their strength seems to dissipate. Also, the right angle eliminates the decorative potential of the gestures. A similar displacement—the extension of the two central panels—in the more grandiose Tlaloc, 1989, prevents a similar threat of an all-too-wall-based look.

But even without such maneuvers, Moses never simplifies his paintings into decorative obviousness. He seems to be exploring a variety of sensual surfaces, rather than immersing himself in texture. There is an air of deliberateness, of underlying calm, to these surfaces, for all their energy and rush. The excitement is under control; the tension is persistent but channeled. A certain resoluteness emerges through it all. It is this sense of will directing sensuality that makes Moses’ painting convincing.

––Donald Kuspit