Los Angeles

John Altoon

David Stuart Gallery

Since 1956 Altoon has been primarily involved with gestural art. His work has vacillated between action painting and a kind of virtuoso, intuitive draftsmanship involving either the figure or abstract shapes. From about 1959 an image composed of configurations of biomorphic and animal-like shapes that animated a white, unpainted ground began to appear. This image, always executed at high speed, uses gay pastel colors and black line, and forms the main body of his work since. During the past two years Altoon has virtually stopped painting on canvas, a medium unsuited to his need for speed and intuitive form, and devoted himself almost entirely to drawing on illustration board.

The present show includes drawings done during the latter part of 1964. There are two sizes—60” x 40” and 30” x 40”—executed in mixed media. These pictures all make use of a new evolvement of his image. They now stretch across the picture plane, looking like long, imaginary entrails often blossoming into unknown, fancifully-shaped organic lumps. The shape and connection of these forms are carried by swift convolutions of pen and ink. Body is given by the use of bright, transparent, air-brushed colors that allow him freedom of action and a new modeling of forms that illusionistically rounds them and brings them forward from the white ground.

In some of the larger drawings the ground has been painted in with a wallpaper-like patterning, or polka-dots. This seems to have been done after the primary images were applied, and thus holds the play of illusion in better control.

These pictures hold a strange position between the automatic drawing of the Surrealists and American action painting. The intuitive license is checked by Altoon’s virtuoso ability as a draftsman and by his high sense of color. This is the work of one of the very few artists who is still able to make an interesting, personal statement of great flair within the bounds of an already academic vocabulary.

Don Factor