Abstract art: it’s a form of creative expression that’s as apparently identifiable as it is essentially unique, defined by standards usually reserved for the obscene and the worshipful. Conversely, “I know it when I see it” and “I don’t know art but I know what I like” are perhaps two of the most concrete of all possible explanations when it comes to expressing the effing ineffable — and they’re sentiments most suitably used when discussing the work of Los Angeles abstract artist Ed Moses.
Coming down from on high, Moses will discuss his work, in person, at Sylvia White Gallery to present his latest book, a thick retrospective cryptically titled Ed Moses, published at the end of this month by Radius Books. Moses, a staunch Buddhist, lays it down thusly: “I don’t visualize and execute. Every breath is brand new. Don’t think of the future, don’t think of the past — the only factor is now.” Or, to quote the slightly squarer Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “No man ever steps in the same river twice” — a credo that Moses, ever the force of nature himself, has adopted in the execution of his various abstractions.
What seem to be the musings of a pastry chef in transit are in fact precisely considered movements in that eternal “now” — and that’s the thing about abstract art that is so difficult for people to grasp; that it is an expression of precision, even if only for a moment and even if only in the moment. Even the most precise patterns contain a movement of chaos. Put any straight line under an electron microscope and you see a sweltering welter of curves and irregularities that are natural. There are no straight lines in nature, and it is that folly of intent that Moses lampoons, ever so gently, in the seemingly arbitrary swirls and whorls across his canvas and lines. Abstract art was a reaction to the buttoned-down straights and squares of the ’50s, a time during which the nuclear family was threatening to become a post-nuclear one, with its endless lines that began at the edges of a Bible and ended with the perfectly planned trajectories of both housing developments and missile launches. Moses — along with Richard Diebenkorn, the late Wallace Berman, Robert Irwin, the late John Altoon and Ed Ruscha — stormed the late ’50s by presenting an ideal for living through various styles and media, from resin to wood and beyond.
His latest mania is for big paint on big canvases — which, after all these decades is likely a deference to that great freeing artistic impulse of “just because,” and not a reaction to any one thing or any one issue. Included in the Sylvia White Gallery exhibition are: the honey-colored nighttime lightning strikes of “B-z-z-z,” the looping sky hues of “BO #1” and the ironic sensuousness of “Weed Wacker.”
It’s hard to conceive of a time — sun-soaked and pleasant as the afternoon of Moses’ appearance most likely wont be — during which the concept of an art that was propelled into reality by neither the mundanity of the mid-century Protestant work ethic nor the fetters of virtuosity, was so violently rejected. And even though this is an afternoon nowhere near the vitriol of the art riots of the last century, Ed Moses’ abstraction and minimalism present an affront, in a playfully subtle way, to the proscribed way of action and suffering in art and the execution thereof. Perhaps that’s not the goal — but one of the most rewarding side effects to abstraction itself is how it is at once meaningless and meaningful. No mean feat, that.
Nov. 11 through Dec. 5. Opening reception, book signing and discussion with Ed Moses on Nov. 14, 3 p.m. at Sylvia White Gallery, 1783 E. Main St., Ventura. 643 8300, www.sylviawhite.com.