David Hockney found inspiration in swimming pools; Ed Moses got his from a piece of oilcloth he bought in Tijuana. The year was 1963, and Moses was creating Rose Screen, a work reminiscent of a Japanese folding room divider. Rather than go with the expected cherry blossoms, he grabbed a pencil and traced the rosebuds off his souvenir from Mexico. Embodying the artist’s knack for elevating the everyday, it’s among dozens of pieces in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art show Ed Moses: Drawings from the 1960s and 70s, the only museum exhibition since the Carter administration devoted solely to his graphite experimentation. “I don’t create paintings or drawings,” Moses says. “I construct drawings and paintings.”
Moses earned his reputation as one of the city’s most important artists in 1958, when the long-gone Ferus Gallery—that hallowed space on La Cienega—gave him his first solo show, focusing on abstract paintings. The West Coast art scene was on its way. The 89-year-old recalls hanging out with Bob Irwin, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Ken Price, and Bob Graham. “We hung out at Barney’s Beanery and seldom talked about what we did. But we would visit one another’s studios continually offering advice or criticism not necessarily asked for.” Like Jackson Pollock and other abstract expressionists, he was attracted to unconventional methods, sometimes using a spatula and a stick dipped in enamel. “The process made unpredictable paintings,” he says. “I never knew what I was doing. I was finding out in the process, and the painting appeared.”
Those paintings stand in stark contrast to the drawings in LACMA’s show, which opens on May 10. “Drawing was really the issue in the 1960s for me, not exactly a popular notion at the time,” he says. “It was so different from what the others at Ferus were doing. The drawings were repetitious patterning set up by the graphite.” Monochromatic and minutely detailed, they reflect “obsessive-compulsive” patterning, says Moses, adding, “I thought if I pressed hard enough, like filling a cavity in a tooth with silver, they might reappear as a kind of transformative image.” He was right.