John Altoon, American (1925 - 1969)

John Altoon (November 5, 1925 - February 8, 1969), an American artist, was born in Los Angeles, California to immigrant Armenian parents. From 1947–1949 he attended the Otis Art Institute, from 1947 to 1950 he also attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, and in 1950 the Chouinard Art Institute. Altoon was a prominent figure in the LA art scene in the 1950's and 1960's. An exhibition of his work was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, in 1997, curated by Hugh M. Davies and Andrea Hales.

Altoons work was related to Abstract expressionism although he is best known for his figurative works of the 1960s, with as Leah Ollman describes "a vocabulary of vaguely figurative, botanical and biological forms that he pursued until his death." He was part of the "Ferus group" of artists so called for their association to the Ferus Gallery that operated in Los Angeles in 1957–1966. Some of the others artists included in this group are Edward Kienholz and Robert Irwin.

Leah Ollman describes his life an 1999 article in Art in America, "With his outsized personality and reckless intensity, John Altoon loomed large in the L.A. art scene of the '50s and '60s.

Altoon was diagnosed as schizophrenic in his late 30s and suffered bouts of depression and paranoia —during which he even destroyed some of his work— and even on occasion committing himself to Camarillo State Hospital. He was "possessed by real demons," Larry Bell remembers.

Irving Blum, partner in the legendary Ferus Gallery, recalls: "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." Altoon's struggle with mental illness, his big, dark, robust personality and his early death from a heart attack at 43 have, even more than his art itself, come to define his legacy."

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