John Mortenson was born in 1947 in Williston, North Dakota. His two passions in life were then and continue to be, music and art. His art career began with lessons from the age of eight with his great uncle Paul Rolshoven, a commercial and fine artist.
Not sure yet which direction he wanted to go, he majored in music at Bismarck College. He then went on to graduate from the University of North Dakota with an honors degree in Classical studies followed by a year at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens Greece, with the idea of teaching as a career. However, art beckoned him once more and he studied painting and art history at the Sorbonne in Paris France.
Returning to the United States he began working for the North Dakota State Historical Society and the Smithsonian Institution, National Park Service as assistant archaeologist at the Fort Union Historic Site.
In 1969 he came to Canada and continued his Classical studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. While there he worked as a set designer for the Manitoba Theatre Center as well as an interior designer for the Unicorn Boutique clothing chain.
After completing his studies he moved to Montreal and studied and taught at the Ecole des Beaux Artes. He also held the position of poet in residence at Sir George Williams University. It was during this time he had a selection of his poems published by Queen’s University Press.
In 1972 he moved to Vancouver B C and taught for a year as a classics professor in a private prep school in Burnaby. He soon realized that a career as a teacher of the classics wasn’t for him. In 1973 he had his first art exhibition of watercolor paintings at the Berth Elson Gallery in Vancouver. That same year he decided to study architecture at BCIT and worked for Snaky & Associates helping to design the False Creek Marina Project.
For the next 3 years he worked as an architectural draftsman and designer. In 1976 he moved to Toronto and began to focus on his art and music. He was one half of a classical guitar duo for 12 years. During this time he studied with Don Wilson and Peter McCallister as well as performing and touring. The duo preformed with the Hamilton Symphony Orchestra, The Schevchenko Ensemble and other organizations.
In the mid 1980’s he taught life drawing and painting at Seneca College’s Finch Campus, Toronto Ontario. In the 1980’s John was elected to the Arts and Letters Club through the sponsorship of Charles Goldhammer (who began the biggest art program of its time at Central Tech in Toronto). The Arts and Letters Club was an exclusive men’s club that had as its members several of the Group of Seven. While a member John got to know personally and painted with A.J. Casson, Franklin Arbuckle, Charles Comfort and Fred Hagan.
In 1996 – 1998 he was Artist in Residence at Bon Echo Provincial Park Ontario. While there he met Robert Stacy (Canada’s best known art historian) and was selected to be one of only two living artists to be featured in a book called “Massanoga, The Art Of Bon Echo”. This book also featured five of the Group of Seven. One of John’s paintings was chosen to be reproduced for the cover of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
His work has long been collected world wide and he has had exhibitions in many galleries including the Gallerie de l’Opera in Paris, Berthelson Gallery, Vancouver, Gallerie d’Art Contemporaine in Montreal, North York Fine Art Gallery in Aurora, Ont., Eaton Gallery, Toronto, Price Arthur Gallery, Toronto, Gallery Gabor, Toronto, and more recently at the Lighthouse Gallery in Victoria and Gallery 223 in Nanaimo.
From 1989 – 1996 he taught painting and drawing for Loyalist College as well as Lord J’s Fine Art both in Belleville, Ontario, as well as offering private classes at his home studio. In 1999 he moved to Vancouver Island with his artist partner and is continuing to show and sell his work from his home studio and gallery in Cumberland B C.