May 18, 2014


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Lot 38: John Altoon

Lot 38: John Altoon


Pastel, gouache, and acrylic on illustration board
Signed and dated in pencil lower right
Board: 30" x 40"; Frame: 30.75" x 40.75"
Provenance: David Stuart Galleries, Los Angeles, California;
Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the above, 1969)
Estimate: $3,000 - $5,000
Price Realized: $12,500
Inventory Id: 12038

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Before his untimely death at the age of 43, John Altoon (1925-1969) developed a post-modern style that was only outsized by his magnetic personality. Altoon's drawings and paintings depict Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist renderings of playful, erotic, and bizarre subjects. After attending the Otis Art Institute, the Art Center College of Design, and Chouinard Art Institute, Altoon's steady hand earned him stable income in commercial illustration. In the late 50s, his success coincided with the rise of Ferus Gallery on La Cienega where he exhibited his work along with Billy Al Bengston, Larry Bell, Ed Kienholz, and Robert Irwin. Director of the gallery, Irving Blum, once said, "If the gallery was closest in spirit to a single person, that person was John Altoon – dearly loved, defiant, romantic, highly ambitious – and slightly mad." As seen in Untitled from 1961 and Untitled (Sunset Series) from 1964, Altoon's work is idiosyncratic in figurative abstraction, rife with oddball biomorphic forms, and frenetic in approach, yet in color, imagery, and attitude, representative of this highly influential period in Los Angeles art. "He was a complete natural," recalls Billy Al Bengston. "He was the most brilliant, off-the-top guy. It probably killed him to have to think because he'd just come up with things and he'd do it. There was no challenge." Similar examples to these works from the 50s and 60s will be exhibited in "John Altoon" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the first major retrospective devoted to the now legendary Los Angeles artist.

"John Altoon." The Collection. Laguna Art Museum, 2014. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
"Irving Blum and Billy Al Bengston speak about the work of John Altoon." Pacific Standard Time. The Getty Center, 2010-11. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.