Today from our friends at Artillery Magazine, we bring you John David O’Brien’s review of John Altoon’s retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. O’Brien notes, “…Altoon’s art lives up to any expectations a viewer might have for it.” This article was originally published on September 2, 2014.
John Altoon couples his relaxed, entirely convincing painterly hand with a flippant disregard for norms, whether social, societal, or artistic. His retrospective at LACMA cavorts, galumphs, and saunters through a wide variety of styles, approaches, and modes of image-making that astound for their vibrancy and their prescient lack of concern for modernist confines of working in a signature style.
Ranging from abstraction to figuration, Altoon seems equally at ease with either. This large but not overwhelming selection of painted and drawn works is taken from his fine-art practice, as well as some of his modified advertising boards, and delves into numerous of his outrageous sketches. This allows the viewer to circulate liberally through the ideas and images knitting together Altoon’s complex, variegated, and whimsical world. Adroitly arranged by curator Carol Eliel in a primarily chronological order, the different rooms concentrate on distinct portions of Altoon’s output and offer an implicit interpretative key to his participation in the artistic, historical, and societal chapters of his time.
Links between the quirky, erotic, and downright odd forms he colors and conjugates underscore his freshness and his singular interpretative axis. Occasionally seeming to echo other artists—biomorphic abstraction in the vein of Arshile Gorky or muscular, gestural slathering along the lines of Willem de Kooning—Altoon retains a strain of poetic reverie that keeps his works operating along their own lines. The color gamut runs from bold tertiary colors to unusual combinations of dark and light, often with the negative space etching forcefully into the composition. He dabbled with airbrush, mixed drawn-line and painted line, scrambled and splattered with abandon and a paradoxically deft sense of control.