Avant Garde Art Jon Serl

Jon Serl (1898–1993) was an American artist.He is best remembered as a painter like the American artists Grandma Moses and Edward Hicks.He also worked in other roles and under several different names. These included as a vaudeville artist named Slats; as a voiceover performer for Hollywood named Ned Palmer, and as a migrant fruit collector, better known under the name Jerry Palmer.on Serl was born as Josef Searls in 1894 in Olean, New York. He was the fifth child of seven. He grew up in a vaudevillian theatrical family. This contributed to his early artistic talents, including performance, acting, dancing, singing and as a female impersonator. Jon Serl was one of his several pseudonyms. In his young adult days he worked as a peripatetic female impersonator performer known as “Slats”. He was called Jerry Palmer when the silent film era ended in the late 1920s with the first Sound film. He was a voiceover artist for actors whose voices did not fit well in 'talkies'. He was Ned Palmer during the Great Depression, a migrant fruit picker.Jon Serl lived in destitute conditions. His house was dilapidated and next to his porch there was a written sign "CLEAN ENOUGH TO BE HEALTHY, DIRTY ENOUGH TO BE HAPPY". Paintings were piled up everywhere and mice and chicken were found around. There was no TV nor radio. Serl ranked his home as a dump, in his own words: "It's a dump, but it's a nice dump"

Jon Serl was a self-taught painter. He started painting during the World War II when he was in San Juan Capistrano, California. He wanted to decorate his house but as he was short on cash he started painting his own work. During this period he worked also in vaudeville, movies and as a docker.
Serl started seriously painting in his mid fifties. It started when he wanted to buy a painting for his house in San Juan Capistrano, California, but did not have the money. As a result, he started painting himself. Between 1945 and 1985 Jon Serl did more than 1200 paintings inspired in nature. He refused to exhibit for 20 years until he finally accepted to display his work in the 1970s. His first exhibition was in 1970 when he was 76. The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery managed an exhibition of 41 of his works. The exhibition was titled “California primitives, authentic and of great importance”. . At this time he was settled in Lake Elsinore, a desert town in California. In 1981, the Newport Harbor Art Museum also organized an exposition named "Psychological Paintings: The Personal Vision of Jon Serl". His work is now exposed in permanent collections in several museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the American Folk Art Museum.

Jon Serl painted in oil paint on a found surface. He mainly painted characters that were known to be expressionistic and complex, but also brash and bold. It was part of his trademark, which also included the long elegant arms, clownish expressions and large eyes. Because of his vaudeville childhood, his canvases were often compared to theatrical stages. His works explored the inner and the outer worlds with a strange narrative, which usually expressed dualities such as: female against male, good against evil, or nature against technology.  Jon Serl was categorized as prolific. This might be due to the fact that he began painting at a late age.Wikipedia

"Others are more surreal. The undated “Pornography,” for example, stars a giant, yellow anthropomorphized potato and a pink, reptilian plant engaged in some kind of otherworldly flirtation. The painting lands somewhere between the carnivalesque worlds of James Ensor and the cartoonish meandering of Philip Guston, although Serl himself had little interest in the art world or its formidable players. “He knew nothing about it,” Morris said. The only thing Serl was concerned with was, in Morris’ words, “this living continual journal of his life ― in paint.”
And yet, Serl’s work was about more than just theatrical fantasy. According to Morris, Serl covertly identified as gay, and his paintings served as an outlet for the desires he couldn’t otherwise express. “What makes Serl so important is that his paintings were really hidden codes for the LGBT population of America during the war,” Morris said. “It was a time in this country when gay men and women married each other so they could pass as straight, but they lived in communities where they could carry on an LGBT lifestyle in secret.”
Serl was married “three or four times, mostly out of convenience,” Morris said. Before World War II Serl spent time with these partners in a community in Texas where, ostensibly, LGBT individuals could express themselves without fear or judgment. “He was nostalgic for the period. He felt life changed permanently after World War II. He felt [his sexuality] had to be a lot more hidden.”
According to Morris, many of the women that appear in Serl’s canvases are actually men in drag ― not too bold a claim, considering Serl’s own history with drag. Although close friends of Serl’s were familiar with his complex relationship to identity and sexuality, the fact is often left out of artistic discussions of his work. "(huffingtonpost.com)

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