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THE ART GALLERIES

Venice

June 07, 1985|SUZANNE MUCHNIC

One approaches a show of new work by an acknowledged Los Angeles master with about equal parts anticipation and trepidation. Is he up to his old standards? Has he leaped forward or safely stuck to his past reputation and its familiar logo? And if he has moved, has he trailed the lemmings to the prevailing fashion?

Not to worry in the case of Ed Moses. Nine times out of 10, his new watercolors and oil-and-acrylic paintings are invigorating demonstrations of aesthetic strength and virtuosity. They are all abstractions, based on his trademark diagonal grid, overlaid with gestural painting. Which is to say that he has kept his feet on familiar turf while infusing it with fresh spirit. As for selling out, the closest he comes to Neo-Expressionism is in a black silhouette of a tarantula that occasionally runs or pokes a spiky leg through exuberant stripes and splotches of pigment. Fortunately, the insect is a minor fright and not a major menace. Moses doesn't need spiders in his art, but his chosen one fits the emotional tone of his new work and generally blends into the formal landscape.

These works were done on the floor, a fact that's only interesting because they have all the physical immediacy of the Abstract Expressionists' fabled "action paintings." At bottom, what's going on in this show is an updated merger of Moses' past concerns. He uses his accustomed black-white-red-green palette but heightens red to Chinese brilliance and pushes a vivid yellow into metallic gold in the most recent canvases--swirling brews of bubbly pigment. As he explores the diagonal grid, he mines it for new depths of woven structure and layered surfaces hung on nearly obliterated skeletons. He opens it up into airy spaces, splashed with wet-on-wet hues, and tightens it in snarling masses, rarely failing to provide his audience with paintings that reward extended looking. (L.A. Louver, 77 Market St., to June 29.)

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