John’s first art teacher, David Gommon met him at the age of 15 on his first day of teaching art at Northampton Grammar School and was excited to recognise immediately his artistic gifts and enjoyed teaching and encouraging him over the next school years. John was an avid student keen to learn about art. They shared many ideas and interests and David’s influence on John often showed in his early art work. Their joint love of nature, (the roots of the banyan tree and stick insects fascinated John and often featured in his art later during trips to the Far East), architecture, which was reflected in John’s rotting cathedrals and in his Pietro da Cortona series and also a hatred of industrial pollution which can be seen in his later collages.  David helped John to go to Northampton College of Art when he was 16 and he and his wife always remained friends.

John became a fine draughtsman, as was his father, who had made some fine etchings. His father always encouraged John’s art despite the difficult years from 12 to 16 when his mother was ill and then died. He also taught John about natural science of which he was very knowledgeable and brought home Surrealist films, one of which was “the Cabinet of Dr Caligari”. Seeing this John decided he wanted to be an artist and actor – both worlds vividly realised in that film classic.

From early childhood John took a great interest in art, acting and music. He particularly loved the work of J.S. Bach and a great deal of early jazz. He possessed an impish wit, which he used in both his art and in writing his own songs, which he sang at the piano in his one-man shows. His artistic humour came out particularly in one series of paintings of dentures, (he actually sold one to his dentist) and in his surreal work with use of limbs – possibly a throwback from his Medical Orderly training for the National Service.

From Northampton Art College, where he was taught by Alicia Boyle and Henry Bird,  John was accepted at Chelsea College of Art where he worked alongside Elisabeth Frink and was taught by Ceri Richards and Prunella Clough. He became friends with Elisabeth and would often entertain at her parties as well as at the annual Christmas college shows with his songs at the piano.

At an early age, whilst still in Northampton, John had taken a consuming interest in Dadaism and the Surrealist movement, which is where he branched away from his first teacher David Gommon. He was a devotee of Picasso and Kurt Schwitters as well as Max Ernst and de Chirico and had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of their art and indeed of so many other artists. He also loved the expressionists and was particularly sympathetic to Van Gogh and his mental problems, John having suffered depression himself that he bravely covered in public with his humour.

John joined the Northampton Town and County Arts Society early in life and always submitted paintings to their annual exhibition even whilst in Penang doing his National Service. His early work included many landscapes in oils, and then at Chelsea he did portraits in oils (including one of Elisabeth Frink). He sketched in oils, gouache or watercolours wherever he travelled and gathered wood and other materials to make several surrealist assemblages.

During his National Service John met Colin Kirby-Green who subsequently went to St Martin’s School of Art and became a painter. They became good friends and later went on painting trips together to France and Italy. Their friendship lasted to the end.

After National Service and four years of teaching art in schools John became an actor.  In order to join Equity he was forced to change his name to Jonathan Adams and this was how he later signed his art work. He took up acting to earn a living since art did not pay well, but he continued to paint alongside his acting career. He was amused that his most famous acting role was in the film “The Rocky Horror Show” for which he received a gold disc. He had, in fact, played “The narrator” in the original stage play. Since then he  performed that part in many theatres around the country and London’s West End as well as on television and radio. He was constantly employed as an actor in TV, theatre, film and radio


In addition to his other work Jonathan made many pencilled cartoons. Later he found his own particular style in collage using great imagination and humour in the process. This was often appreciated by his friends and family in the form of Christmas cards. One of his earliest was called ”Christ Entering Northampton”.

Jonathan's artistic talents were not limited to painting or composing, singing and acting. He also made some surreal Standard 8 short films, two of which were shown at The National film Theatre in London.

Towards the end of his life he wrote a colourful, imaginative and witty biographical book called “Collage of a Life”, which is now published by Silver Link Publishing and is now  available from Amazon
Jonathan Adams, a brief biography
HOME.