Raymond Jonson was born in Chariton, Iowa in 1891, but grew up in Portland, Oregon. At twenty, Jonson attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Later, he continued the development of his technical skills Chicago Art Institute. In 1913, Jonson was strongly affected by the avant-garde works displayed in the Armory Show, particularly the works of Wassily Kandinsky. His artistic theories were further developed by Kandinsky’s book On The Spiritual In Art.
From 1912 to 1917, Jonson worked as the art director for the avant-garde Chicago Little Theater. He also taught at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts until 1920. In Nicholas & Helena Roerich, The Spiritual Journey of Two Great Artists & Peacemakers, Ruth Abrams Drayer writes that Jonson visited the exhibition of Nicholas Roerich in 1921 and then wrote in his diary, “There opened at the Institute the exhibition of the work of Nicholas Roerich. It is glorious. Would that I could express the wonder of it — I feel that at his best he has accomplished that which all artists hope to do. There are at least six paintings that I believe to be the most spiritual pieces of expression that I have ever seen.” Jonson went on to become secretary in Roerich’s society Cor Ardens composed of the “fiery, spiritual, radical group of young painters” who shared Roerich’s belief that “the only real fraternity among men is the fraternity of beauty as expressed in art.”
In 1922, Jonson’s life was changed when he visited New Mexico for the first time. The experiences and sights of this short visit to Santa Fe, convinced Jonson to move to New Mexico in 1924 to focus on painting among the southwestern landscapes. In New Mexico, Jonson started the Atalaya Art School and the Modern Art collection at the Museum of New Mexico. In 1934, Jonson began teaching art at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Then, in 1938, he co-founded the Transcendental Painting Group with Emil Bisttram. Drayer writes that Bisttram had previously taught painting at Roerich’s Master Institute in New York City for several years.
The aim of the Transcendental Painting Group was “to defend, validate and promote abstract art. They sought to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through new expressions of space, color, light and design.” Other members of the Transcendental Painting Group were Ed Garman, Florence Miller Pierce, Horace Towner Pierce, Agnes Pelton, Stuart Walker, Dane Rudhyar, William Lumpkins, and Lawren Harris. The group was forced to disband in 1942 due to World War II.
The Jonson Gallery at the University of New Mexico was established in 1950. Jonson retired from the University of New Mexico in 1954. Raymond Jonson died in 1982.