Ed Moses

A painting by artist Ed Moses, on exhibit at the Telluride Gallery. (Courtesy photo)

He’s been hailed as “one of the most productive and experimental artists of the last half-century,” but to the owner of the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, Ed Moses was something more: He was a family friend.

Moses founded the Cool School, a group of seminal Los Angeles creatives, many of whom were represented by the Southland’s Ferus Gallery in the 1950s and 1960s.

Other members of the Cool School included Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Edward Kiehholz, John Altoon, Ken Price and Billy Al Bengston.

“Their raucous partying and creative camaraderie not only fused a nascent local scene but made the art world beyond take notice,” the LA Times said in a valedictory to Moses, who passed away in January 2018.

The Cool School’s artists are credited with introducing avant-garde, experimental works to a region of the country not familiar with them. The “experiment” was so successful that today these artists’ works hang in galleries and museums all over the world. Even so, Telluride retains a unique, even intimate, connection to Ed Moses. Ashley Hayward, who owns the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, grew up around him in LA. Moses was a friend of her father — contemporary artist James Hayward — and is represented by the Telluride gallery, as is his son, artist Andy Moses.

In other words, there is perhaps no more fitting place to view artworks by Ed Moses than in this place, where friend and family ties inform each show. Indeed, Telluride was the only spot in the entire world where you could see a solo show by Ed Moses last year. You can still see Moses’ show in 2021; it is open this weekend at the gallery, and hangs through Feb. 6.

As its title implies, “Saving the Best for Last,” an exhibit of 24 paintings and six digital pigment prints, features pieces that Moses made in his final years. He died in January 2018, at age 91, and was amazingly productive.

“You caught me on a good day!” Moses had bellowed to a visiting writer from the Times in preparation for a show of his works at age 90, zipping “across the courtyard of his Los Angeles art studio in a paint-splattered wheelchair and stained Birkenstocks.” The artist, “who was still working every day, jerked his chair to a stop at a row of enormous canvases, the fresh paint drying in the sun.”

“He was fearlessly creating until the end,” Ashley Hayward said. “These late paintings are the crescendo of a lifetime of painting.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been steady interest, even in a time of social distancing, in Moses’ solo show at the Telluride Gallery, according to its new director, Eva Chimento. Though the exhibit is available to view online, “a lot of collectors are coming through” to see it in person, Chimento noted, not only from LA, but pretty much everywhere.

“Between all of our social media accounts, it’s been easy to get the word out” about the exhibit, Chimento said. Chimento relocated to Telluride from LA, and happy talks with Ashley Hayward — and mutual friendships — sparked the second part of this exhibit, “Friends of Ed Moses,” in the new back gallery, featuring pieces by Moses’ artistic comrades.

“One of us said, ‘I’m friends with Larry Bell,’” whose work hangs in ‘Friends,’” Chimento recalled. The other replied, “Oh my God! I can get John Miller,” whose pieces are also on exhibit. And so the creative synergy began: In addition to Bell and Miller, other artists on display in the new back gallery include Charles Arnoldi, Edith Baumann, Tony Berlant, James Hayward, Scotty Heywood, Andy Moses, Gwynn Murrill and Peter Shelton.

“This show brings them all together,” Chimenti said. “Seeing works by some of Ed’s closest friends,” as well as candid images of Moses and his comrades taken over the years by photographer Alan Shaffer, “is incredibly moving.” As she put it of her new home in the Box Canyon, and her work at the gallery, “I’m loving it here.”

“Saving the Best for Last,” the only show of artist Ed Moses’ final works, hangs at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art until Feb. 6. See it online at telluridegallery.com.