John Spies

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John Spies

In Memoriam


A self-taught artist, John was born in 1933 in the small village of Veenendaal, Utrecht, the Netherlands. The village was near the river Rhine and not far from where Rembrandt was born. At about 5 years of age, John drew the Utrecht railway station from a bridge. His father was so amazed that he bought him a special bottle of East Indian ink so it could be preserved. When she saw John’s talent, his mother bought him a little tin with coloured blocks in it. She gave him a brush and declared to John’s father “this boy was born with a brush in his hand”. From an early childhood, he showed a great natural talent for painting & at the age of 8, he won his first art competition. Growing up in a country ravaged by war, John sought asylum in the forest near his town spending most of his time there. Here he came to prefer the company of the forest animals to that of most humans.

In 1955, John migrated to Tasmania, Australia & he was absolutely amazed at the variety and abundance of wildlife in this new land. But his greatest love was for the native nocturnal animals of his adopted country. During the 1960’s, John spent a few years in New Zealand. Here he worked as a taxidermist mounting animals and birds at the Auckland Museum and performing autopsies on animals at the Auckland University. After several years, John moved to Melbourne and carried on businesses in other fields, (while painting in between). In 1969, a disastrous industrial accident left him blind for a time and damaged his inner ear. A subsequent operation for the ear was not a success and left him with a legacy of pain and depression.

In 1983, John moved to Queensland for health reasons. This proved to be a turning point in his life because in 1984, he met Marjie who he married a year later. In the many years that John lived in Australia, he was horrified at the destruction and devastation of our native wildlife and their habitats. So in 1990, he took up painting native nocturnal wildlife full time. He used this raw talent to give you a glimpse into the rapidly vanishing night-time realms of the rare and exclusive animals of his adopted country. In 1992, John and Marjie moved to the lovely town of Blackbutt in the Queensland ranges where he was inspired to create his best masterpieces. He participated in many exhibitions, one of the most important and memorable was the “Rembrandt Connection” exhibition held in Melbourne in 1997. John was honoured to be the only wildlife artist to be a part of this exhibition held in conjunction with the visiting Rembrandt exhibition from the Netherlands. John donated many prints and artworks over the years to aid wildlife and other worthwhile causes.

Having been dubbed the “Wildman of the Bush” a long time ago, there was more truth to this name than most people realise. Sadly, John’s health was always an issue and he passed away from asbestos cancer in February 2007.

John’s wife Marjie was on the QWASI committee for many years and continues to be a Life Member of QWASI. We thank her for her contribution to QWASI over many years and for providing us with the information and images above. John has left a beautiful legacy with his work.