“While my composition and forms are often inspired by abstract expressionism, my paintings strive for total realism. Underneath there may be an abstract, but the result is a narrative. It could be about light, texture or form, or it could be all about a particular element of nature portrayed. My goal is to let the viewer in on the multiple levels of interest and details in the natural world.” –John N. Agnew

John Agnew was born in Dayton, Ohio. His parents met in art school, so he had an early exposure to the art world. Despite this influence, his early interests lead to dinosaurs and reptiles, and plans to become a zoologist. This course was nurtured by the Dayton Museum of Natural History, where he landed a job in the “Junior Curator” program, caring for the live reptile display. When his artistic talents were discovered, he moved to the exhibits department where he made models and painted diorama backgrounds. With the opportunity to enjoy the best of science and art, he chose museum exhibits as his career and pursued a degree in Fine Arts while taking as many science electives as he could.

After graduation 1976, his first job was as Curator of Exhibits at the Science Museum of Palm Beach County. The Florida Everglades was nearby, and Miami offered a convenient jumping off point for the Caribbean and Central America. His interest in the tropics grew until he knew that painting the natural world was his true calling. He left the museum and began painting full time in 1983.

His contacts with the museum world continued, however, and some of his largest commissions came from museums and zoos. John estimates that he has painted over 25,000 square feet of murals for the Cincinnati Zoo and the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, plus mural projects as far away as the Moscow Zoo in Russia.

Despite his international reputation for his photo-realistic portrayals of reptiles, amphibians, birds and animals, his newest works are devoid of any.

“You might say it’s the abstract artist in me trying to break out,” explains John. “For several years, I’ve been doing paintings of the pebbles we see on northern Michigan beaches.  They are the closest I seem to be able to come to doing an abstract. However, the realist in me keeps the pebbles authentic. I want to be able to tell if each one is sandstone or granite.

“I like paintings with stories, and these stones have their own to tell.  Formed 2.5 billion years ago as part of the earth’s crust called Canada, they were carried to the south shore of Lake Superior just a couple of tens of thousands of years ago. They emerge from the glacial drift already rounded by their journey, and are further polished by the sand and surf. They are endlessly fascinating to me.”

John’s paintings are in collections around the world and have also been exhibited by the US State Department in US Embassies abroad. He has exhibited nationally and internationally and has received numerous awards. In 2001, North Light Books published “Painting the Secret World of Nature,” a complete guide to John`s techniques. He is a Signature Member of the Society of Animal Artists, a member of Artists For Conservation, and a founding member of Masterworks for Nature.


Selected Awards:

2009 Patricia A. Bott Award for Creative Excellence from the Society of Animal Artists.

2008 Award winner, Kentucky National Wildlife Art Exhibit

2007 $10,000 Grand Prize, “Paint the Parks,” a national juried show of art relating to national parks

Award of Excellence “Art and the Animal,” annual show of the Society of Animal Artists