Photograph by Brian Buckley for Nick Moss, 2020

With titles such as Some kinda white over some kinda black (2019) from a recent show at Leila Heller, New York, there is a seriousness and playfulness about Nick Moss’ work. Upon first glance, the two panel paintings appear as just that, two rectangular shapes with rounded edges, one stacked on top of the other with surface variation. However, when inspecting further it became apparent that they are not your regular paintings. Shaped steel, as the exhibition title suggests, has an aura of pigment from the artist applying various tinted patinas. Each surface is executed and extremely labor intensive, involving several layers of patina, and a rigorous sanding process. The result, both physical and chemical, means that no two are alike. Even with the use of formulas to establish particular colors schemes with the patina, the materials are prone to subtle variances due to the temperature, surface, application and many other factors. Each of these works is a plan as much as it is a happy accident.

Photograph by Brian Buckley for Nick Moss, 2020

Working in a studio in upstate New York, Moss labors on these with a precision that often comes from the dedication and drive of someone who is perfecting their craft. He carves the shapes with a digital laser cutter, and makes meticulous frames that are welded to the back of the panels. Each of these pieces weigh approximately 30 pounds, although my estimate would have been much higher.

Photograph by Brian Buckley for Nick Moss, 2020

A twist on traditional picture making, but with similar results, Moss branched into abstraction after making figurative work, also in steel. The abstractions are stronger as they seem to be more personal. He is a midwesterner by birth, and a sometimes farmer with a city edge. On the day we met at the gallery, he was glowing with a fresh tan after having spent some time in Florida. Somehow, the work suits him and his personality. It is aesthetically clean, with an edge of uncertainty. Of all the two-paneled steel works, he lists aerial views of farmland as an inspiration, as well as the shaped canvases of artist Ron Gorchov.

The works can be as simple or as complex as one is willing to devote to looking. Initially, I thought they were quite straightforward, perhaps even synonymous with works from the abstract movement of the 1960s. However, once I allowed my gaze to settle and truly investigate the surfaces —swirling from the sanding process, areas where the patina never adhered to the steel— they became much more engaging. From the disparate colors he uses, I found the non-colors, black and white, to be the most visually dynamic. With various surface textures, even post-sanding (specifically the black pigment), areas of light and dark created enough surface variants to explore without distraction or needing to identify color. Yet, there was one colored work that did capture my attention, titled, Some kinda night sky over some kinda night sky. Blues, greens, and purples swirled together in a way that unexpectedly mimicked depth and loss of gravity, even if a mostly flat shape.

Nick Moss with Untitled, Flame Painting, 2019, Photo by Brian Buckley, New York, 2019

After a brief interaction with Moss, identifying his passion and drive for steel as a medium was palpable, mixed with a desire to make beautiful things with a dangerous edge. Additionally hanging in the gallery were a series of works on steel but rather than use patina, the artist made marks on the surface directly using a blowtorch. In both instances, the medium and tools normally associated with manual labor, are vehicles for art making. Not a necessarily new way or lens to look at the world, but a welcomed departure from traditional oil painting on canvas.

Nick Moss, Steel Shapes, was on view at Leila Heller Gallery from January 10 and extended through February 21, 2020.