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.
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)