John Altoon was born in 1925 in Los Angeles, California. He attended the Otis Art Institute from 1947 to 1949, the Art Center of Los Angeles from 1949 to 1950 and Chouinard Art Institute in 1950. Altoon was a major force in the Los Angeles art scene during the 1950s and 60s. Diagnosed as a schizophrenic in the late 30s, he suffered depression and paranoid episodes, during which he destroyed much of his own work. He spent four years in New York City from 1951 to 1955 and after a year-long trip to Spain and France, he returned to L.A. where he integrated the influence of Philip Guston and Hassel Smith into his work.
Fantasies and dreams are often the subjects of Altoon's color lithographs and watercolor paintings. In 1965 he worked at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, which taught a generation of American master printers. Altoon’s personality and enthusiasm brought energy to the circle of artists associated with the Ferus Gallery in L.A. His untimely death at the age of 43 left behind an impressive body of works and he is remembered for his talent, vitality and inspiration.