William Turner Gallery
Santa Monica, CA
Dec. 5, 2020—Feb.10, 2021
The mimesis of nature’s physiology and miraculous wonders created by the LA painter, Andy Moses, implemented through an obsessive, decades-long, trial-and-error search at understanding—as an alchemist would—the varying properties of pigments vis-à-vis their contactual and visual interaction to light and surface, is, simply put, mystifying. These are masterworks of undulation in paint. Hypnotic mind-fucks fashioned by and charged with the natural world’s vibrational energy, both geologic and galactic, and created to put life on pause momentarily just as the sight of a giant wave in Nazaré, Portugal, or a visit to Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River would. When attunement to the transcendence of life itself is allowed to awaken and is. Moments when the rare, hidden, or supernatural reveal themselves to captivate and engulf the present entirely. This, in short, has been the lifelong objective, pursuit, and catalyst behind the art practice of Mr. Moses.
Like a nautilus shell’s logarithmic growth spiraling outward from its center, Andy’s incandescent circular paintings, six-feet in diameter, spiral outward from their centers and are just as flawless in design and rhythmic in their telling of, or alluding to, some sacred geometry. In Geodesy 1505 and Geodesy 1508, Mr. Moses pays homage to earth’s shape (or earth’s shape as seen from the moon) and revels in the pictorial mystery of the cosmos, of the sphere, much the way Da Vinci attempted to understand—with his Vitruvian Man—the divine proportions of man.
With the large, hexagonally-shaped Geodynamics 1214, we are immediately reminded of nature’s countless six-sided elements, from snowflakes to the hexagonal cells constructed by honeybees to house their sweet honey. A stunning and luminous work of psychedelic intensity, super-charged reds, and blues that meander across the picture plane kaleidoscopically.
Born in Los Angeles in 1962, Andy Moses studied with Michael Asher, John Baldessari, and Barbara Kruger at the California Institute of the Arts from 1979 to 1982. After graduation, he moved to New York to work for the artist Pat Steir and had his first solo show with Annina Nosei, who first represented Jean-Michel Basquiat at her eponymous SOHO gallery on Prince Street. In the 1990s, Moses lived on Long Island’s East End, in Montauk, where he hosted art shows with his friend and legendary photographer, Peter Beard. In 2000, he moved back to LA, and in 2017, the Pete and Susan Barrett Gallery at Santa Monica College conducted a thirty-year survey of his work. Portray Magazine spoke with the artist after his recent opening at William Turner to delve deeper into his fascinating life and art practice.
PM: One cannot help but think of a mandala (Sanskrit for circle) from the ancient worlds of India and Persia when observing your work because these visual embodiments of higher thought and deeper meaning are, as with your work, meant to center the individual and encourage introspection. Any connection you’d like to share?
AM: The comparison to Madala’s is interesting. I work in the tradition of gestural mark-making that comes out of pure abstraction but also in alluding to various aspects of the universe on the micro and macro scales. In both my tondos and hexagons, everything is converging towards a center point—or emerging outward from the center. As with a Mandala, I’m keen on making contemplative objects or in suggesting a cosmology representative of the entire universe—and our connection to it. Of representing energy and matter at the subatomic level, and that which is fluid or in a state of flux and impermanent. Everything transitions from one state to another, and this notion of fractal patterning or patterns that repeat across all scales fascinates me.
PM: So unlike a traditional painter of landscapes who works from nature, you’re after taking the actual life-forces from nature to work with?
AM: Exactly. I work directly with the forces of nature. I call them gravity dispersions, viscosity interference, and fluid dynamics to create imagery that suggests these forces of the natural world at work.
PM: Where did you go to art school?
AM: I went to Cal Arts from 1979 until 1982 and studied with John Baldessari, Michael Asher, and Douglas Hueblar. I had one semester with Barbara Kruger, but it was my most memorable class. Barbara’s point of view about art and society and how art functioned in society was laser-sharp. She had a good sense of humor also. I really love her work and know she still teaches in spite of all her success, which really shows her dedication and commitment to teaching.
PM: How long did you live in New York?
AM: For 18 years. Moved there in 1982, right after Cal Arts. Things were really heating up in New York in the early eighties. My first job was working for Pat Steir as a studio assistant, and for her husband, Joost Elfers, on his book projects. Pat was really breaking some new ground with her paintings at the time. She had an interest in both contemporary painting but also art historical painting. It felt very different from a lot of artists at the time.
PM: Tell us about your friendship with Jeff Koons?
AM: I met Jeff in 1982. We used to go to these rambunctious parties at writer Alan Jones and his partner Sue Etkins loft in Soho that were filled with lots of people, energy, laughing and arguing. Every now and then, a fight would erupt like what I imagined Cedar Tavern would have been like in the forties and fifties. It was at these parties where I met Donald Baechler, Saint Clair Cemin, Colette, and many other young artists.
Jeff and I have remained friends. I remember being at the opening of his first show in the East Village at International with Monument called Equilibrium. It’s featured pieces were a bronze life raft, bronze aqualung, and the equilibrium tanks with the floating basketballs. I remember looking at the work and then also seeing the astonished looks on everyone’s face. It was clear to me that Jeff’s life from that day forward would never be the same.
PM: When did you first meet Peter Beard?
AM: I met Peter in Montauk in, summer of 1990. Peter was great. Larger than life. He was working on his diary collages in these giant notebooks. They were incredible. I had never seen anything like them. This was before he started doing the collages on a really large scale. Interesting people were always dropping by to say hello. I met Paul Morrissey, Terry Southern, Gerard Malanga, and Julian Schnabel through Peter. I had stopped surfing in ’82 after moving to New York, but in Montauk, I was able to get back in the water. Peter’s former property caretaker, Tony Caramanico, ruled the surf out there. He was the unofficial mayor of Montauk surfing, and all kinds of famous surfers like Tom Curren, Kelly Slater, and Joel Tudor came to visit him. My favorite surf spot was called The Ranch, right in front of Peter’s house. Another great surf break was in front of the Warhol estate, where I’d surf with Julian. My studio was on Industrial Road. Peter and I did shows there every summer, along with the artist, Thomas Moller. The whole town would show up because everyone knew and loved Peter. It was a fun and exciting time.
PM: What other artists did you roll with?
AM: I knew Matt Mullican. Our families lived right around the corner from each other in Santa Monica. A few years ago, his mother Luchita Hurtado’s work took off in a big way at the age of 96. She was amazing. Lawrence Weiner and David Salle visited Cal Arts when I was a student, and David was actually the one who got me the job with Pat Steir. I met Rudolf Stingel when he showed up at my door one day on the advice of the art dealer, Tanja Grunert. Rudi ended up getting a studio right below mine and was making those silver paintings, spraying through mesh on wet oil paint. I loved those. In 2019, I saw his retrospective in Basel, and it’s amazing how much ground he’s covered over the last 30 years.
In the late eighties, I hung out with John Bowman, Anne Shostrum, Alexis Rockman, Mark Tansey, and Robert Yarber. All really great artists, and we’d go drinking on Friday nights. It was a fun and lively group. In the early Nineties, I met Sean Scully through California painter James Hayward. Sean used to come to my loft to watch the fights. He loved the fights. We would always give Sean this big throne-like chair to sit in with the best view of the screen. Sean has the funniest dry humor of anyone I know and is a brilliant painter. New York in the eighties and nineties was like a small village. I met so many artists at that time who now fill the walls of contemporary art museums and the pages of art history books. I have great memories of my time in New York.
PM: Tell me your funniest art-world story?
AM: New York in the eighties was definitely about the have and have nots. It always felt like your luck could change almost overnight in either direction. I have a story that’s funnier to me in retrospect than it was at the time. An art advisor brought Ethel Scull to my studio. She and her husband, Robert Scull, were big collectors of pop art in the sixties. I had even read about them in Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word. Sotheby’s sold most of her collection after Robert died. It fetched a very high price at the time and set some records, too.
Needless to say, I was excited when she came to my studio, especially when she said, “this is the most exciting work since Jasper Johns.” I was only 26 at the time and thought, “finally, someone recognizes my talents” ( laughs). She walked around the studio and said she wanted to buy every painting. I was sure from that point on and my life would never be the same. The next day rolls around, and I hear nothing. I call the art advisor to ask, ‘what’s up?’ He says: “I didn’t want to tell you, but she’s a little nuts. She does this all the time. She likes to go to artists’ studios and pick out things, but she never follows through. It makes her feel important like she’s still part of the scene”. So for about 12 hours, I really thought my ship had come in (chuckling).
PM: Why did you move back to LA?
AM: In 1999, I was ready for a change. I had lived ten years in Montauk, and having that connection back to the ocean was important for me. I felt like my work was about to undergo some changes but wasn’t sure how that would happen or what they were going to be. I moved back to LA just before New Year’s in 2000 and found a shack on the water in Malibu. I made some small paintings there. Having the water transform into sky and then have everything morph back into water was important for me. Even though I had lived in Montauk on a cliff overlooking the ocean, my studio was on the opposite side of town. Now I could live and work right on the water. I immediately started making paintings where almost everything was removed. I worked in a pure, pearlescent white pigment. I started making paintings that were elongated rectangles to reflect my new panoramic environment. You could see subtle hints of the sky and the ocean. Within two years, I was making my first concave panoramas. I then took a larger studio in Venice and drove down the coast every morning from Malibu and every evening make the beautiful drive home. These drives were most certainly beneficial to my work. And after twenty years of being back home, I can now see how essential it was for me to return to where I was from.