Arthur (Oil Painter)
The ruling passions in John Arthur's
painting and travel. His family has lived in Dorking
for generations and when he left school at 15,
John followed the family tradition by training to be
a carpenter. However he soon left to go and work in London to earn
some money to enable him to travel. When he finally set off from
Dorking station, one of the staff was rather surprised when enquiring
his destination to be told Central Africa!
The first six months in Africa were spent working on ranches in
Zambia, including the same ones that David Shephard stays on when
he visits Africa to paint. After that, John went to South Africa
for ten months, working some of the time, in the gold mines. This
was well paid and the money enabled him to continue his travels
through east and Central Africa, finally picking up an Indian ship
His destination was Australia by the overland route through South
East Asia and by the time he reached Bali, he was bursting to paint.
He had dabbled with art in the past but nothing serious, now it
seemed that everything he felt had to be expressed on canvas. Each
day brought ever more beautiful countryside and in Bali he found
the people acutely aware of the beauty in everyday things, and that
they revere art almost as God. He could not wait to reach Australia
and start painting.
When he arrived in Darwin, he spent six months in the construction
industry acting as foreman on the building of an extension to Government
House. Everything John does, he treats like his paintings, putting
his best into it. But, he was unhappy working for other people and
felt he was being stifled.
John brought a VW van and drove to Cairns in North Queens land
where he lived in the van
and painted like mad, being totally inspired by the beauty of Australia.
Now and then he did other things such as farm work and tuna fishing,
but always went back to his painting. He found right from the beginning
that his paintings sold and be worked all the way round Australia
and across the middle in this way, finding inspiration all around
him. For a time he lived with the Aborigines, and was fascinated
not only by their art, but also their philosophy of life and
the Dream time.
John's idea had always been to go around the world, and after three
years, he made the break and went to New Zealand. He found then
how much he missed his friends his van and the half dingo stray
dog he had adopted. He moved onto the Cook Island in the South Pacific
and rented a little house, from which base he visited some of the
very remote islands. He found them beautiful but like Gauguin before
him, he found drained and he could not paint them.
The life on the Island made him angry. It was like stepping back
100 years and he did not like what he saw happening to the native
culture as a result of the influence of the Europeans.
After 6 years away he felt it was time to come home.
This too brought problems. He returned to Dorking, moving into
the house next door to the
one he had been born in. Although in many ways it was good to be
back with his friends
and family, he found it very difficult to become established as
an artist in this country.
After 12 years back home, he still finds it difficult, but knows
that his Australian experience was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, not
to be repeated. He has been back to visit since and knows
it is true, but still misses the life there.
John style of painting has been liked to Turner, especially as
he particularly likes to paint skies and is fascinated by light.
He found this strange as his style developed in Australia and when
he returned to England he had never heard of Turner! He investigated
and liked what he saw and now it would be true to say that Turner
is one of his influences.
He has now spent 15 years painting in earnest and thinks that England
will remain his base. The top floor of his house is now a studio
and framing room, and he has just started selling through galleries,
which is where he hopes his future market lies. In Australia he
was selling only to Australians and there are only 15 million of
them. From here he sells to the world. In 1983 Pictura Graphica
accepted some of his seagull painting for cards and postcards and
is at present producing more designs aimed at this market.
John divides his time between travelling and painting. If he does
not travel he gets depressed and cannot paint. As soon as he has
had a few days away, he finds he has been inspired and does his
best work, so it looks as though the pattern is set, at least for
the foreseeable future.
This article was written by Veronica Burningham for the Craftsman
Magazine in 1988.
John still lives in Dorking. He now has a gallery with his business
partner Sung-Hee exhibiting John's paintings, Sung-Hee's photography
and jewellery. Also exhibiting paintings and sculptures by selective
artists; holding spring, summer, autumn and private exhibitions.