John Altoon - Artillery


by Ezrha Jean Black 

There are some artists you know are great immediately because they provoke such disparate and conflicting emotions simultaneously that they practically throw you physically off balance. John Altoon is one such artist. The most feral of the Ferus Gallery Cool School, Altoon’s influences ranged from abstract expressionism to surrealism to commercial illustration – but transmuted through his art, you feel as if they belong to him exclusively. His vibratile color harmonics take something from Gorky, Guston and Sam Francis; and his nervous, zig-zagging line owes something to Steig; but transmuted through his art, they belong to him alone. You feel the work’s impulsive urgency and a musicality that resonates long after you pull away – with echoes of Parker, Monk, Mingus and probably a bit of Chet Baker at least as pronounced as those AbEx antecedents. Of three museum-quality shows up at Los Angeles galleries right now, this Kohn Gallery show in particular feels as if it could have been annexed directly to LACMA’s superb 2014 Altoon retrospective; it should not be missed. There’s no encapsulating the scope of this magic – but, with apologies to Dylan, don’t say we ‘never warned you if your train gets lost.’