Jon Serl American, 1894-1993


Like many folk artists, Jon Serl started painting late in life. His first hasty attempts were made around World War II. By this time, Serl had already experienced a full life, working in vaudeville, in film, and as a laborer in California and the Southwest. A pacifist, he fled to Canada during both world wars to avoid service. He was married three times, but each union ended in divorce.


In the 1970s, fed up with America’s capitalist consumer culture, Serl settled in the California desert town of Lake Elsinore and began to paint. Serl’s work abounds with characters. Often compared to theatrical stages, his canvases usually have a mysterious narrative that explore both inner and outer worlds, the emotional and physical. The figures that people his paintings often express dualities: male versus female, nature versus technology, good versus evil. The twinning of life’s experiences may reference Serl’s struggle with his sexual identity.¹


¹ Bio excerpt courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum, New York.