Larger Type
Smaller Type

Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Folk Art: Folk Painting: 2 Dogs--3 BANDSMEN; and camera
Jon Serl

Jon Serl

(born Olean, NY 1894 -- died Lake Elsinore, CA 1993)

Jon Serl Appears on the Tonight Show (Part 1) 10MB
Jon Serl Appears on the Tonight Show (Part 2) 11MB

"Once every week or two, I sit still for a half-hour or so and ask: Who am I? And every time I arrive at the same thing: I'm a crazy man." Jon Serl, quoted in Robert L. Pincus, "The World According to Serl," The San Diego Union, January 18, 1987

Jon Serl grew up in a family of vaudevillians and performed across the country in women's clothes and a blond wig. He ran away to Hollywood in the 1930s and worked as a movie extra, but an accident on a set drove him from the business (Kristine McKenna, "Inside the Mind of an Artistic Outsider," Los Angeles Times, November 12, 1989). He settled in an old adobe hut in Capistrano, California, where he grew his own vegetables and shared his house with a flock of chickens. Serl saw a world in which people only cared about material goods and didn't understand American values. He felt he "had to do something," so devoted his time to painting images that expressed his views on war, consumerism, and human nature (Jessica Jacobs, "Psychological Paintings: The Personal Vision of Jon Serl," Newport Harbor Art Museum, Calif., 1981/82). He painted all day every day for more than forty years, saying that "even if I could live my life over I'd be an artist, because when I don't use the paint it cries." ("Inside the Outsiders," Art and Antiques, Summer 1990)