Is Ed Moses channeling Henri Rousseau? No, but it’s hard to suppress the thought given the menagerie of zebras, tigers, giraffes and other beasts that stare out at us from jungle foliage in the artist’s latest series, wic wack.
Jokes aside, a more pertinent question is whether California’s best-known abstract painter has made a shift toward allover paintings built from representational elements that appear half-camouflaged.
If so, it’s one of many that have defined a peripatetic 60-year career. During that time, beginning in the early 1950s, he developed a huge arsenal of perception-bending techniques, most of which remain closely guarded secrets. Here – and I’m only guessing — he uses stenciling or silk screening to create multiple layers that replicate the look and feel of tapestries. As it happens, paintings can now be faithfully replicated on fabric with CAD technology, which is something Moses has actually done: he’s made 10 such works in collaboration with Magnolia Editions, but these pictures are not among them. Still, I had a hard time convincing myself of that fact. The surfaces of these paintings glitter with the kind of iridescent sheen you see in textiles made from synthetic fiber, and their faintly visible vertical lines only compound the illusion. It wasn’t the weave of the canvas I was seeing; it was something else, something that was applied with an almost preternatural mechanical efficiency — which is not a quality we typically associate with Moses. This, of course, is the extreme micro view.
Back away from the canvases and shimmering moiré patterns take hold. They come from multiple “off-press” screenings which throw all of the recognizable imagery out of focus. Sometimes the effect is only slight. At other times it’s so extreme I wondered if I needed an eye exam.
To further complicate matters, Moses, in a collage-like fashion, superimposes onto the surfaces of several pictures, talking-head shaped forms filled with filigree patterns – patterns that also appear in other locations looking like foliage imprinted on doilies. Before long, foreground and background start to merge and the pictures begin to shimmy and shake like reflections on wind-blown water.
It’s vintage Moses in an all-new guise. While the animals and the plants are new, the optical interventions he uses to re-define illusionist space are longstanding trademarks, as are the recycling of themes, like the talking heads, a Dubuffet reference, which dates to 1992.
For Moses, this type of illusionism hit something of a peak in the late ’80s when he commandeered the minimalist grid, set it at a 45-degree angle and then activated the “negative spaces” with expressionistic gestures that transformed the pictures into bottomless mazes.
With wic wack, Moses extends those traditions; but he also changes his own game by running a kind of magical primitivism through a filter of Pointillism and Op. There are only five canvases in the show, but they are more than enough. I left feeling as if my molecular structure had been substantially re-arranged.
–DAVID M. ROTH
Ed Moses, wic wack @ Brian Gross Fine Art through Dec. 23, 2010.
Editor’s note: Radius Books’ 2009 catalog, Ed Moses, contains the finest reproductions of the artist’s work to date, along with an invaluable Q&A. A must-have item for Moses fans.