John was born in Nova Scotia in 1951 and raised in the Maritime Provinces and Quebec. Although never formally trained in visual arts he has always painted or sketched as long as he can remember. After a successful career as a crop physiologist in Agriculture working on Horticultural crops in Ontario he has recently been able to focus more on painting. John and Paula live in London, Ontario. They have two grown children both married and 4 grandchildren.
His formal education has included studies in Botany and Horticultural Science at the undergraduate (McGill) and post-graduate (Guelph) levels of achievement. Degrees earned in these disciplines have had an unmistakable impact on John’s career as an artist. Training in the Botanical Sciences has enabled him to be comfortable in recognizing hundreds of species of vegetation and their accompanying ecosystem. Horticulture Science has given him a good understanding of agriculture, the people that make it work and settled landscapes in the temperate climate areas of the Northern Hemisphere.
The first oil painting he completed was at age 7. It was really an experiment in paint application more than anything even though John remembers feeling somewhat competent in covering the small canvas. His mom loved to dabble with oils. He is largely self-taught and relishes the act of experimentation with materials. This is a natural reflection of his science background. John’s first intimate connections with the landscape came from fishing with his dad and family camping trips.
John is a keen observer of the Canadian landscape painting ‘plein air’ or ‘on site’ year round. Winter sessions are usually limited by temperature extremes and squall activity. “You definitely have to pick your days to avoid getting frozen out. Some of the most dramatic moods in the landscape come from unstable weather conditions.” Plein Air works are pretty much finished in one session in the field. Minor adjustments and finishing touches are added in the studio if needed before signing a work. The weather conditions and stability of the air usually determine the size of the canvas to be completed in a plein air session. Plein air works are also characterized by their “In the Moment” feel. This is a term coined by collectors and artists both who are familiar with this style and way of producing work from life in the field. I must say that a plein air piece well executed is energizing and unmistakable in its expression of the human experience.
Much larger pieces are usually done in the studio using sketches and smaller reference pieces that were done “plein air”. A large plein air piece will demand the utmost of skill and concentration in the field. Studio works and can be of similar subject material as works done on location. “The materials and processes are more or less the same with the idea to keep all pieces looking fresh and not contrived or over worked”.
“The transition seasons are perhaps my favorites. Late winter and early spring on warmer days yield some wonderful contrasts where there’s just enough snow left and the angle of the sun changes on a daily basis. Late summer and fall in the East provides another of nature’s secret charms. In summer you have to look for the colour. It’s there in the flora and fauna, in the sky and meadows and on valley floors.”
“Composition / pattern, depth of field, light /shadow, cool /warm contrasts and mood all play a role in choice of subject material and motif. Initially, colour and shape are the factors that usually draw me to any part of the landscape. The thing is you can return to the same spot over and over again and each time it will show a different nuance. When painting plein air, time of day adds an extra flavor to the mix of variables to consider. Earlier or later in the day will generally provide the best colours and longest shadows.” A few minutes outside on a sunny day can change the look of a landscape unbelievably quickly so you have to move fast to get that first feeling and overall impression”.
Travel throughout North America, Europe and Great Britain has not diminished John’s interest in and passion for the local landscape in Southern Ontario on the fringe of the Carolinian zone in which he lives. John prefers to talk about how a painting is done rather than where it’s done. Balance and mood will often trump detail. “The illusion of detail and feeling or mood is what I am after.” Surface texture, the random and gestural strokes are elements that give John’s work that signature look.
All of John’s paintings are characterized by a high degree of structural energy. The finished canvas usually displays a very tactile surface that is highly textured and can be rather rough in appearance close up.
“Oils are my favourite medium. Every time I use them I get the same feeling of excitement that I had as a seven year old with a new box of crayons. After more than 40 years of painting and exhibiting professionally I still have fun mixing paints up on the palette in preparation for that first magical touch. I usually use brushes to start a painting and then transition to a palette knife to build texture and finish. Oils behave quite well in plein air sessions in the field provided it’s not excessively cold.” John uses only the highest grade of oil paints available. http://rembrandt.royaltalens.com/en/products/oil-colour. Acrylics have improved dramatically in their attributes in the last few years and I find myself going to them often and more so in the studio. My collectors now have a harder time distinguishing my acrylics from my oils.
Artist’s Statement on painting. After more than 3 decades of showing his work, the act of painting and searching out subject material remains challenging and fun. “I love to get out and explore the countryside year round. The best thing about producing a credible piece of work is being able to make some sort of positive contribution to the lives of others. “Being an oil painter is not just about the artist. Perhaps and more importantly it’s about a spiritual circle that includes the subject, its own energy, the artist and the potential collector and their feelings.” John’s patrons often make reference to a spiritual connection with his works. A painting is only complete when it has a soul of its own.
Probably the French Impressionist Group including Monet, Cezanne, Sisley, Pissarro, along with Van Gogh are some the iconic figures I still reference to. In the U.S. you would have to count the likes Sargent and Homer. There were also artists like Aldro Hibbard and Emille Gruppe that I regard highly. Here in Canada, I would have to say that Thomson and the Group of Seven hold a special place for me.