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It Speaks to Me: Monique Prieto on John Altoon

November 23, 2011 |  9:00 am

P196430_300This painting has a great, long approach so you see it from a distance at first, like you’re viewing a moment in a film. And its forms are very large, unlike anything else in the room. The shapes are like hieroglyphics: they seem to be representing something, but it’s not clear what. Then you read the title, and you realize it is a landscape but one that’s untethered, where all the elements are floating. That’s the real fun of it: Altoon gives us a sky and dirty fog over ocean with a weird ice plant or cactus greenery in the sand. It’s a strange sort of landscape, but familiar to me because I grew up here in Los Angeles and was born in 1962, the year it was made. I perceive a temperature in the magenta that comes up from behind the forms — like hot-white L.A. air. He has somehow nailed down something very ephemeral and fleeting, and that's beautiful. He was clearly aware of the New York Abstract Expressionists but this is a West Coast sybaritic form, less puritanical. I think he really enjoyed the sun on his skin.

—Monique Prieto, as told to Jori Finkel
Image: Ocean Park Series #8, 1962, by John Altoon, 81-1/2 x 84 in.Norton Simon Museum. © 2011 Estate of John Altoon, Braunstein/Quay Gallery.