Born in Montreal in 1927, John Fox attended McGill University and then enrolled at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal. Dissatisfied with its academic approach, he studied at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, School of Art and Design from 1946 to 1949, where he was influenced by Goodridge Roberts. He then worked for the critic-painter John Lyman in McGill’s Department of Art. In 1952 he received a British Council Scholarship to study at the Slade School of Art, University of London, followed by two years of independent work in Florence and Paris. Returning to Montreal, Fox began his career as a painter; he would also teach at the Saidye Bronfman Centre in the later 1960s and became a professor in the Painting and Drawing Department at Concordia University in 1970 until his retirement in 1998.
Fox’s work follows three periods beginning with intimist figures, interiors and landscape images from the mid 1950s until the early 1970s. His early approach, with its interdependence of painting and drawing, relates more to School of Paris painting than a specific Canadian sensibility. In 1972 and for almost fifteen years, he rejected the imposed limitations of representation by producing large abstract works concerned with the physical and sensuous processes of painting that were influenced by European and American non-figuration.
At the same time, he produced a number of collages, which share with the paintings his concern for colour as structure. In 1986, Fox returned to figuration where the tenets of abstraction are represented through a reconstructed reality of people, places and things. His figurative themes suggest the incidents of contemporary life rather than its grand narratives. Throughout his career, he continually drew from the model and his work on paper signifies an important part of his production. Whether his images are abstract or representational, Fox is foremost a colourist where the materiality of colour and light is a metaphor for objectifying the sensations of the subject.
John Fox has worked in a variety of mediums – oil, acrylic, watercolour, gouache, chalk, graphite and charcoal. He also produced prints, ranging from abstract serigraphs to figurative etchings. In 1970 he produced a limited number of bronze sculptures. Fox was a member of the Canadian Group of Painters and was also made an Associate Member of the Royal Canadian Academy but he resigned within a year because of its conservative attitudes. In the mid 1960s, he was awarded a mural commission for the inauguration of the Confederation Art Centre in Charlottetown. Fox was a life-long resident of Montreal and also spent a significant time in Venice, Italy from the mid 1970s until his death there in 2008.
John Fox has had numerous solo exhibitions in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary throughout his career and also participated in many group exhibitions across Canada and internationally. His work is represented in major public, corporate and private collections in Canada, the United States and Europe.