“As a young artist, I had the good fortune of a friendship with Graham Coughtry and, I was also acquainted with Michael Snow. We played music together in jazz groups. I learned a lot from just listening to those two guys talk about art. Graham’s expressionistic style had a huge impact on me. He used great amounts of paint and although my work doesn’t look at all like his, he did get me into using a lot of paint. He also got me hooked on collecting books on art history.”
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“Initially my paintings were mainly rooted in the landscape. Gradually, they became more abstract and, now they are very much non-objective works. I’m no longer trying to make a ‘picture’ per say. I’m just involved in the act of painting now. It’s sometimes hard for viewers to get their head around the concept that I am not trying to depict something. When I paint, it is just a very natural act.”
The work of John Mars has been exhibited at the following galleries:
- S.A.W. Gallery, Ottawa*
- Kresge Arts Centre, Michigan State University, East Lansing **
- State University of New York at Buffalo
- Homer Watson House And Gallery, Kitchener-Waterloo*
- Cambridge Public Art Gallery*
- Art Gallery of Brant and Glenhyrst, Brantford*
- Oakville Centennial Gallery*
- Woodstock Public Art Gallery***
- Grimsby Public Art Gallery**
- Chatham Cultural Centre*
- Engine Gallery in the historic Distillery District, Toronto
- Mohawk College Art Gallery, Hamilton
- Neutral Ground Gallery, Regina
- Hamilton Artist’s Inc.
- Charlotte Gallery, Brantford
* denotes 1 painting in gallery’s permanent collection
* denotes 2 paintings in gallery’s permanent collection
* denotes one person show
** denotes 2, one person shows
In 1977, 1978, and, 1979, John received an “Ontario Arts Council Individual Artists Award Of Merit Grant. John was commissioned to do 5 works for Calbeck’s Food Markets (Brantford, Ontario) main office in 1987.
The paintings and photographs of John Mars have appeared on album covers, posters and numerous magazines in North America. A recent painting appeared in the Union Gas Annual Report for Ontario. The images are all copyrighted but, you are welcome to print out any of the images to stick on your fridge or whatever.
To inquire about sales or, any official reproduction rights or, to inquire about exhibiting the works, e-mail us
A selection of works from an inventory of hundreds of paintings by John Mars :
More to come…the oil paint is still drying.
Click here for details on the exhibition history of works and, prices.
Thumbnail Gallery : Constructions (Click to view larger scale (ca. 60kB)
The oil paintings are a very gradual process and, they take shape over a period of many years. Gradually, they are layered up into a thick impasto. The acrylic paintings on paper are much more immediate works.
The paintings were catalogued by John’s studio assistants Zipporah Stephenson, Michael Beswick and, Gillian “Gesso Girl” Stagg.The paintings were photographed by Zipporah Stephenson. The constructions were photographed by Rae Billing.
How I Became A Painter by John Mars
Below is a letter, which I sent by regular mail to Betty Eslick in 2005. Betty is a retired lady, and, she is a volunteer docent at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. We met at a lecture on Clyfford Still in the auditorium of the gallery. It turns out that Betty and I are both long time fans of Still’s work, and, after an enthusiastic discussion, I promised to mail her a copy of a rare article on the artist that she had not read. All of this somehow led to my writing a personal letter to Betty that included a series of annecdotes that attempted to explain how I was inspired to become a painter, while I was still a rebellious, young high school student …
April 1, 2005
Whenever I look into the archives here at Cotchford House (my home), I am always surprised at what I find. I go downstairs, looking for the Horizon Magazine with the 1979 story on Clyfford Still in order to xerox the story for you and, I find that I have an extra copy. Lucky you. So, enjoy.
It looks like I picked up the extra copy of the mag for 25 cent$ (at a thrift shop, I would guess). Glancing at the subscription mailing label, I think how amusing it is that it once belonged to Burleigh ( pron: BUR LEE) Henry, who was vice principal at my ol’ alma-mater, North Park Collegiate, in Brantford, Ontario. I note that it looks like, besides the fact that B. Henry lived on what is quite a nice street, he must have been hipper than I realized in the old days! He had a subscription to Horizon?!
As part of the administration of dear old NPC, Burleigh was most definitely none too pleased when John Mars, a long-haired hippie type, was elected president of the Student Council of said high school in 1971. I was the first president of the school to have a political agenda as opposed to the previous ones who seemed mainly concerned with sock-hop dances, school spirit and, decorations at football parties. I worked on those activities enthusiastically as well, but, I did have other fish to fry. Burleigh and, I sat on the Senior Advisory Board together, due to our respective positions. We had our moments, to say the least.
At first, the administration were shaking in their boots, worrying that the new wave of elected kids were overly influenced by Jerry Rubin, Huey Lewis and The Chicago Seven and, Germaine Greer etc. Me and, my newly elected colleagues knew that these ol’ dudes were alarmed. That gave us a distinct advantage. We did not want to burn the school and/or steal their books but, we knew that they had some arcane rules that we wanted them to reconsider.
In 1971 at North Park Collegiate, the freaks had taken over from the frats. However, by the end of the term, B. Henry and, the two other principals were literally telling me how proud they were of what my lil’ group of political, thinking characters had accomplished. We changed the constitution of the school and, the staff of the high school came to realize that, we actually had some grey matter. We weren’t there to follow the hilarious doctrine that Jerry Rubin put across in “Steal This Book”. We turned out to be much more sensible than they all thought. At the end of my year, I asked the 3 principals (including B. Henry) to sign my yearbook, much to their surprise. I respected them and, they respected me, at the finish up. They all signed with nice comments.
Funny, how an address label can bring back a flood of memories.
At the same time ( circa 1971-1972 ), I put the school’s art teacher on his ear. I already knew that I was one of the few kids at NPC that was quite likely to continue with visual art in some way and, he did not have a clue how much I loved working with paint. Mr. Fletcher had virtually no painting talent himself and, I think that he wanted to be teaching math or anything else. Early that year of my Grade 13, he told us that the next project was to do a painting. OK. HuH? He gave us absolutely no direction, except to tell us who in our beloved, lunch bucket Brantford, Ontario (I now call it Gretzkyville) sold oil paints and, acrylic paints and, then the F man told us to use whichever we wanted. I asked what we were supposed to paint for said project and, he said, whatever you want.
On a project deadline day, Fletcher would call out all the names of your classmates in alphabetical order, asking each of you all to bring your thing up to the front and, show it to him and, he would then jot down a mark (from 3 10?) in his ledger, while adding either few or, else absolutely no comments of his own. On this particular deadline day, I knew for a fact that no one else in the class had the project completed.
It sort of went like this:
Fletcher: Dave Armstrong?
Student: Sorry sir, not done
Fletcher: Mike Bradley?
Student: Not done, sir
Fletcher: Cindy Charlick?
Student: Sorry sir.
Fletcher: Kevin Cosman?
Student: Not done. or, whatever the case was….
Until he gets to the letter M in the alphabet. By then, is he mad or what?
I’m done, in more ways than one. Johnny walks up to the front with a totally non-objective oil painting, with fairly thick impasto. 19 inches high, by 16 and a half inches wide on a Masonite panel (with no knowledge that it should have had several coats of gesso on the panel as a ground oh well !). Thousands of ochre strokes from a half inch wide brush and, a slightly less wide brush, descend from the top. Added later are, jagged burnt umber, violet and red dashes, with some scattered yellow dashes at the bottom. A bunch of globby shingle like strokes all descend from the top edge. All of this was painted while listening to two records over and over. One by the genius jazz composer/ bassist Charles Mingus and, his group with Eric Dolphy on alto sax and bass clarinet. Another by Sonny Rollins (which had some weird oil painting on the cover). The whole process seemed to make sense to me, at the time. It still does to this day. I was having fun. I was only thinking: let’s be creative. On that day, I walk up to the front and, the dialogue sort of went like this:
Fletcher: What’s this supposed to be, Mars?
Mars: It’s…………. my painting sir.
Fletcher: Of what?
Mars: I don’t know.
Fletcher (abruptly, now) : What do you mean you don’t know? You don’t know what it is?!.
Mars: Well sir, it’s my painting. You said that we could paint whatever we wanted.
Fletcher: I can’t mark this GET OUT !
Now, keep in mind, Betty not only was I not throwing erasers at some girl and, causing some class disturbance like some idiots might be on certain art class days, but, I knew that I was the only person that had actually completed the work that that doingie Bill Fletcher had asked for.
He wants to see if he can next say Lucille Minshall? and, see if whoever is next in the alphabet has managed to finish something that might look a little more like a picture. Too bad that no one else in the class has managed to finish a painting by the due date. Again, knowing that my fellow students has nothing to show him yet, I then asked Mr. F…
Mars: Does this mean that I am out of your class for the day or, for good or, what?.
Fletcher: I don’t know, just get out.
(With the Martian thinking, but, not impolitely saying What does he know?).
Now, on my way to the door, I imagine that I should be going straight to the principal. Within split seconds, I have decided that I will tell Mr. Kilmer that Mr. Fletcher could give me 1 out of 10, but, that if he can’t mark this, then Fletcher should not be teaching anything to anyone and, that furthermore, he was not teaching anything to me at present. As I am sure you can imagine, I had already spent a lot of time in the principal’s office since I was elected to council at the end of the previous school year. I was always, calmly arguing a lot of things. I was always straight forward with the principal about my opinions. Said principal was Glenn Kilmer, a man of German descent who actually had a moustache like Adolf Hitler’s for several years in the 1960’s!!! What?! Truth can be stranger than fiction. NPC yearbooks and school newspapers can prove this fact.
In those days, my friends and, I all listened to the Firesign Theatre lps, especially one that contained a skit called High School Madness. We felt that, with our Hitler-esque, moustachioed principal at the helm, we were virtually living inside of that beserk comedy routine.
At any rate, as soon as I was kicked out of Fletcher’s class and, hit the hallway carrying my oil on panel, along came Abigail Watson, who was in her first year of teaching art and, in her early twenties. She was on her way to Fletcher’s room to borrow a box of erasers or, whatever…the next conversation went sort of like this:
Abigail: Hi John. Wow, what’s that?
Mars: My painting that I made.
Abigail: That’s fantastic.
Mars: Really? Mr. Fletcher does not seem to think so, he just kicked me out of his class, based on how this thing looks… I think.
I then proceeded to reiterate the then current story to Ms. Watson, who told me to wait right there in the hall. Within two minutes Abigail was back. She had told Fletcher that she would like to take me into her class and, he agreed to accept her marks, if I agreed to go into her class. What?! I gladly followed Abigail down the hall to her class room, immediately.
So, I ended up in a class of mainly grade ten women. There were two guys in the class besides me and, Abigail’s period four class basically consisted of our junior girl’s basketball team. How cool was that? Plus, I ended up gaining a soul mate – the very beautiful (in more ways than one hundred) Elizabeth Alexander Rose (aka EAR), who I am still friends with to this day.
Later, when I was in my mid-twenties, the painting that I wanted Fletcher to consider ended up being selected by a couple of different museum directors and, it was included in a couple of my one person museum shows! The painting had no signature or date on the front (that info was on the verso) and, those directors just assumed that it was part of my then current body of work and, picked it to be included in the shows that they were presenting.
What if Mr. Fletcher knew that I went on to make painting the most important activity in my life? I doubt that he has taken note.
Enjoy the Horizon Magazine on Clyfford like I enjoyed hearing your stories about our mutual hero and, I will hope to have the chance to hear more stories some day, from my new friend Betty. Clyfford is the reason that painting is the important thing in this life to me.
All the best,
The images shown here in the photo gallery are available for licensing and John is also available as a portrait photographer.