Michigan-bred artist Nick Moss has been surrounded by steel his entire life. He first got acquainted with the material growing up on a farm and parlayed that into a high school job at an industrial contracting company. “I was a farm kid. I was always surrounded by large machines and equipment made of steel,” says the 34-year-old self-taught artist. “If you broke something on the farm you had to fix it. So that’s my very first understanding of the material.” In 2008, he joined wood-fired grill company Traeger Grills (whose grills are made almost entirely out of steel) and worked for the company for five years before turning his gaze to furthering the application of steel for his own art. “Steel is in my blood,” says Moss of his favorite material. “For me it’s second nature, completely intuitive.”
Moss loves investigating and exploring what’s possible playing with such a temperamental and often dangerous material—he uses a blow torch (set between 5,000 to 36,000 degrees) along with other welding techniques. “It moves, it warps, it wants to fight you,” says Moss of steel. “When you’re willing to be surprised and accept the challenges, it can all work out beautifully.”
Nick Moss: Steel Shapes is Moss’ second exhibition with Leila Heller Gallery, this time at her Upper East Side location (Moss has also shown at Casterline Goodman Gallery in Aspen) and it’s divided into two parts. The first set of wall-mounted steel paintings (to him, they are paintings not sculptures) are called “Flame Paintings” and the artist happened upon this technique purely by accident. “I was cutting steel with a torch and I ran out of oxygen so I relit the torch only burning acetylene [a colorless gas compound] which produces a heavy black smoke. The smoke stuck to the steel and that’s when I realized I can actually paint with fire.”
They are reminiscent of minimalist, geometric works by British land artist Richard Long. The second section of rectangular cut-steel canvases in vivid heavily-layered paint, “Steel Shapes,” is born out of Moss’ fascination with geometric forms seen on the shadows of his studio floor and the streets of New York City. These steel artworks feature abstract color field painting styles finished in a richly colored, high gloss patina. “There are so many repeated shapes that are slightly different all around us,” says Moss. One feels a nod to American artists like Mark Rothko, Frank Stella, and Ellsworth Kelly, with some David Smith mixed in. Either way, Moss is surely on fire.
Nick Moss: Steel Shapes is up through February 21 at Leila Heller.
17 East 76th Street, New York, NY 10021