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John Barnard: Painter of Joy at 89 

John Barnard: Painter of Joy at 89

By Maria McGuire
Paso Robles Daily News

John Barnard-Painter of Joy-paso-roblesWhat brings you great joy? What is it that occupies your thoughts so completely that you eagerly anticipate engaging in it when you wake up in the morning? For local artist John Barnard, that excitement comes from painting.

At 89 years old, John has experienced and seen much in the world. Some children grow up with a ball in their hand or their nose in a book, but for John, his hands were always in paint. When I met with him recently he retold one of his earliest memories of being in the second grade listening to the Jack Benny Radio program. The comedian’s words disappeared as he found himself painting what he thought the humorist looked like. His artistic ability was good enough that with encouragement from teachers, he pursued a degree in art. He spent time in WWII where even there, art was not far from his mind. At times, he was caught painting and the punishment was KP duty. Swabbing and cleanup was worth it to him if it meant he could paint.

After the war, John worked in the electrical industry in both Mexico and Venezuela. His job held status and he often met with high-powered politicians, though this always felt unimportant to him. During business meetings, his mind frequently drifted away from the project at hand, instead creating imaginative masterpieces. While in Venezuela, he met a small, humble priest who dedicated his life to caring for lepers. John watched this simple man bring joy and laughter into the lives of others and realized that this is what felt important to him.

In 1973, John’s wife convinced him to quit his unsatisfying job and move to the Central Coast where he thrived and received recognition as a full-time painter. These days, he finds great enjoyment in sharing his gift of painting with others. Since moving here, he has offered numerous art demonstrations for both children and adults. Knowing that most public schools cannot afford to implement art programs, John makes himself available for demonstrations in classrooms from the Kindergarten to the High school level. It is important to him that children be introduced to art.

John feels he received many opportunities to express himself through his art over the years and seeks ways to give back by encouraging others. He shares his love of painting at various art festivals, where he patiently introduces budding artists to the world of painting. John also enthusiastically leads a class each Tuesday at Studios on the Park with other adults interested in painting. His welcoming style is evident as new chairs are quickly set up for any and all who show up unexpectedly. All who come are inspired by his spirit, including Kay, a regular at the Tuesday gathering. She told me that every person who paints with John loves him. What comes through in their sessions is not only the joy expressed in his colorful paintings but the joy in the way he lives. He willingly shares his talent and vast knowledge of art history along with his upbeat zest for life. Students know that each day when he rises in the morning, he greets it
with, “what a beautiful day to paint!” He tells them that watercolor is a happy, joyous medium and how beautiful the paper is. Their job is to let those things shine in their work.

John feels he is the luckiest guy in the world to be able to paint. For him, it is a limitless way of expressing himself. For those in the class, this is contagious and they feel grateful for the opportunity to learn from him. He encourages their creativity through his humble, helpful and often humorous approach, peppering each session with stories and jokes. One of his students told me, “I’m a better person for knowing him. It was clear to me visiting the group that John feels the same way about each of them.

John’s philosophy in life is to do what you love without hurting others while doing it. He especially challenges older people to live their lives to the fullest and continue doing things that bring them joy every day. He sees some older folk who don’t know what they’re going to do each day, so they drink, watch TV or find other ways to escape. He would rather use his time getting up each day and immersing himself in an activity that brings abundant joy in his life.

John told me the story of a fellow painter, Milford Zorns, whose ambition in life was to be able to do an art exhibit at the age of 100. He did, and he had the time of his life! He died a few years later and people commented on how sad this was. John did not see sadness but only delight knowing Zorns was doing exactly what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it. For him it was perfect. Perfect joy.



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About the author: Publisher Scott Brennan

Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or follow his blog.