Project Description

John Altoon

Sawtelle Series 6 

John Altoon was a poet and a prominent figure in the Los Angeles art scene in the 1950s and 60s. Born to Armenian immigrant parents, he was a veteran of WWII and was educated at the Otis Art Institute (1947-49), the Art Center of Design (1947-50), and the Chouinard Art Institute (1950). Altoon was the senior artistic presence in the “Ferus Group” (the artists associated with Ferus Gallery). Irving Blum, a partner in the Ferus Gallery, described Altoon as “dearly loved, defiant, romantic, highly ambitious–and slightly mad.” Diagnosed with schizophrenia in his late 30s, he was prone to bouts of depression, paranoia, and destructive behavior. Yet, after psychotherapy, he had long periods of high productivity. Altoon was influenced by the Abstract Expressionist movement but is best known for his figurative drawings suggesting anatomical elements. Using a spontaneous, “brain to brush” approach, he produced freehand drawings, paintings, and prints of overt satires, personal nightmares, and improbable sexual situations. He frequently used his dreams and fantasies as subjects. Sawtelle Series 6 is typical of his work, with its parade of boisterous biomorphic forms and their nonsensical, surrealistic and buoyant quality.


Artist: John Altoon
Title: Sawtelle Series 6
Date: 1964
Medium: Pastel with colored inks and ink washes on illustration board
Type: Assemblage
Dimension: 30 x 40 in. (76.2 x 101.6 cm)
Collection: The Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum for California Art 
Copyright: © The Estate of John Altoon