From the earliest days of Russell Moses’ practice, the elemental aspects of the natural landscape have been integral to his artworks. Whether working in clay, wood, stone, or steel, his practice references the cyclical processes of growth, decay, and regeneration over time, and explores the way humankind interacts with the natural environment.
A self-taught artist, in the late 1960s and early 1970s Moses worked in demolition yards in Auckland and then Dunedin, which provided ample opportunity for creative experimentation with recycled materials. This in turn led to a friendship with Ralph Hotere, who would collect demolition doors and windows for his Observation Point studio in Port Chalmers.
Moses’ early, large-scale ceramic works were pit-fired at the back of Hotere’s studio and in the 1980s he fought alongside the artist and other Port Chalmers’ residents to save the point from Port Otago's expansion project. Moses’ Headland (1996) is a lamentation for the destruction of the site; created from the clay of the demolished headland, the artist weaves together medium, form, and narrative to create a work that expresses both personal and universal truths.
This is also seen in Moses’ site-specific sculptures, one of which, Waka, can still be seen at Port Chalmers’ Back Beach. As the artworks weather and erode away, they reflect both physical and temporal place, and invite contemplation of the inexorable processes of the natural world. Situated in the land and created of the land, they remind us too that we are of the earth and are bound by its rhythms.
In his wall installations, abstraction and symbolism are the visual languages Moses uses to tell the stories of the land. Groups of carefully ordered shapes reference the tools of topography and surveying that allow us to divide the landscape into discrete, quantifiable segments. Painted and printed surfaces recall crystalline structures, ripples of water, fractured light, leaves, and the patterns left on the land by human intervention. The play of light across the artworks creates impressions of colour and form that can only ever be momentary. These fugitive moments are accentuated by the contrasts of light / dark, negative / positive, presence / absence that construct a visual ground that is always in flux.
With a practice stretching back over 40 years, Russell Moses continues to draw upon the stories he finds in Aotearoa’s landscapes. He has exhibited nationally and internationally, and his works are held in a number of public collections in New Zealand. It is perhaps most fitting however, that his artworks can also be found in the land itself, slowly returning to their source and visible reminders of the intimate relationship between artist and his environment.