Ed Moses
Artist Ed Moses is “in a constant state of exploration and discovery,” says exhibition co-curator Juli Carson. Courtesy of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts

Known as the “bad boy” of 1960s West Coast art, Ed Moses has been called one of America’s most formidable abstract painters. What some people might not know about the artist (a moniker he hates, but more on that later) is that he was one of the original faculty members in art at UC Irvine.

Moses recently celebrated his 88th birthday and continues to work out of his Venice, Calif., studio. His paintings are displayed in galleries all over the world and coveted among art collectors.

In recognition of his enduring influence, UCI’s University Art Galleries will mount a solo showing of his work from the 1960s to the present. “Ed Moses: Cross-Section” opens Oct. 10 and runs through Dec. 13. A public reception – which Moses is expected to attend – is set for Oct. 11 from 2 to 5 p.m.

It’s the Claire Trevor School of the Arts’ inaugural exhibition in celebration of UCI’s 50th anniversary. The event will feature 30 paintings highlighting the innovative techniques developed by Moses.

His oeuvre is diverse and difficult to categorize, which presents a challenge to curators, notes Juli Carson, UAG director and co-curator of the exhibition.

“He’s a painter who’s in a constant state of exploration and discovery,” she says. “Ed does not see himself as an artist. He’s not expressing himself in his work, but you can see how he’s thinking as a conceptual artist and exploring the interaction between materials and paint.”

Kevin Appel, art professor and associate chair of graduate studies in art, is co-curating the exhibition with Carson, who’s also a UCI art professor.

“I think it’s a great time to reassess Moses’ paintings,” Appel says. “It’s an opportunity to study the changes in his work and how rigorous he has been in challenging himself as an abstract painter.”

The concepts and themes in Moses’ art are still relevant to abstract artists, he notes: “In contemporary painting, abstraction is very much in the forefront of what people are looking at. A lot of the ideas people are thinking about were seen early on in his work.”

One innovative technique used in Moses’ paintings is craquelure, an effect achieved when layers of paint crack and separate as they dry. The artist’s three-step process involves brushing a single color on a prepared canvas, followed by a proprietary mixture of his own “special sauce.” As the paint dries, it begins to crack and separate. Moses then adds a second layer of color and lets it dry again.

He further shapes the work by literally “hitting and punching” the surface to produce the desired result. According to Carson, Moses’ art reflects “sort of a push-pull between random chemistry and manipulation of the canvas” by Moses himself.

“We have not done a show of this generation of abstract painting in 10 years,” she says. “His work sits perfectly at the threshold of abstract painting and conceptual art.”