Jonson’s interest in theatrical stage design and lighting led him to study the creative possibilities of greatly simplified settings which lead to his stylized form of painting evident in his New Mexico works of the 1924-27. During this period his artwork was based on abstract natural forms and graduated arrangements of colored planes. These pictures were realistic in the sense that certain physical conditions were suggested, but he used repetition of similar shapes to vitalize his canvases. The mechanistic and geometric quality of Jonson’s early images reflect the formal components of the local landscape as it is reduced to a diagram of lava and sandstone molded into streamlined shapes.
Beginning in 1927 and into the thirties Jonson moved in the direction of schematic abstractions with noticable shapes found in nature. Not all of these were hard-edge or truly geometric, as he began to impose his feelins and interpretations into the scene he was depicting. More and more of the shapes lost their local identities as they were transformed to the needs of the painting.
The Universe series, begun in 1935, and the Cosmic Theme series, started in 1936 indicate Jonson’s departure from nature and landscapes, and ultimately his release from landlocked concepts completely. These paintings are open, airy, mysterious and not in any way naturalistic and completely design oriented.
In 1938, he began to use the airbrush in his work and they represent a unique contribution to painting because of the successful combination of a modern mechanical device and an extraordinarily inventive imagination. Using this method Jonson presented a uniform surface onto which he would add dimensions by his use of startling color juxtapositions. Often, optical illusion was Jonson’s intention and his works stand out as among the best paintings in this vein.
The artist often referred to himself as an “evangelist” for modernist art in New Mexico and that “if our age leaves anything to posterity in art it will be the abstract.”