Excerpt from interview by David Pagel, June 7, 2010
David Pagel What was your relationship to the Pomona College Museum of Art when Helene Winer invited you to exhibit there in 1971?
Ed Moses I never paid any attention to it. I met Helene, one way or another, and she was fairly attractive, and I was always interested in attractive women.
I was also interested in materials, in drawing, in rawness. I was aware of resins and plastics through Craig Kauffman and DeWain Valentine. I had this idea that I wanted to wrap a painting in plastic. By un-stretching the canvas it has the extra edges I like, the raw edges. So I made a huge Mylar table, put rain gutters around it, placed the canvas face down, and poured resin all over the back of the canvas until it bled out to the edges. The excess was swept off into the gutters. I worked outdoors because of the fumes. I poured paint into the wet resin, squirted it in there and when it dried I lifted the whole thing off the table. What happened was that the resin bled through irregularly, so there were shiny and matte surfaces. Then I nailed the whole resin-embedded canvas to the wall. It didn’t exactly look like a laminated driver’s license, but it was a primitive attempt. It was contrary to the modus operandi of the resin and plastic art of the time, which was shiny and finished and polished. Being the contrarian that I am, it suited me. There, on the wall, was this big strange thing that looked like leather. In order to keep the edges from curling up, I used old stirring sticks, anything that had a history, to add to the natural aspect of the situation. The process was important. I like moving things around without an end result in mind, of finding out through the process things I couldn’t have thought of. When I do things that I think of it’s just the same old story. I do things that I know and use my somewhat experienced eye in editing and correcting. I wanted to free myself from that and just take it as it comes.
DP So for your show at Pomona, “some early work, some recent work, some work in progress,” in 1971, you made some of the works in the galleries?
EM Yes. I planned to do some of the pouring of the resin in the gallery. But I was concerned about the fumes and the toxicity, so I didn’t pour any resin there. Instead, the gallery functioned as a place to build the resin paintings, marking them with chalk lines, snap lines, and masking them out. I had them in various stages of development. First I drew with snap lines, chalk lines, using pigment powders. I put tape over the canvases in irregular diagonal configurations. The designs came from Navajo blankets, second-phase chief blankets: diagonals, crisscross patterns, and lazy lines. Strips of paper went across, allowing for chance markings. I had various stages there to be seen and any of the stages could have been finished paintings. In fact, some of them I just left on the panels. They looked pretty nice. The two largest ones hung from long wooden sticks and looked as if they had been loomed. I put strings going vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. They made highly irregular patterns and let you see the substructure and the final construct.
DP You wanted something unfixed? In flux?
EM Right. I wanted the unpredictability. I had this feeling that to be an artist was to be a shaman. I believed, and still believe, that man leaves his mark as a response to his existence. I think there’s a genetic factor that makes certain people object makers. I never thought it was about making money. Who knows where that idea came from? There are different realities. When you’re drunk there’s a reality; when you’re in love there’s a reality; when you’re making love there’s a reality. So how do I respond to that and demonstrate that out of these compulsive lines? A handprint, a painting, or what?
DP What else was in the show?
EM Many of my small works on paper from that time involved cutting, folding, and compulsive coloring in, almost like 3-D architectural studies or abstract, shallow relief sculptures. To echo their format, I mounted them on eight-by-four-foot sheets of Celotex, a fragile composition board. I just push-pinned them in loose clusters, sort of salon style. I also built a platform with Celotex to keep people from taking the drawings off the wall or touching them. It was a barrier. At the opening a young guy stepped up on the platform and stepped right through the Celotex. He whirled around and ran out, leaving a puncture in the platform. It was a kind of on-the-spot performance that added to the environment of accidents, chance, and discoveries.