John initially trained and worked in watchmaking, but realised his dream later to become a professional artist. He attended classes at the Royal Art Society of NSW with Kenneth Green, Allan Hanson, Arthur Murch, and private lessons with George Duncan. John then spent many years plein air painting across Australia with mentor and master artist Leonard Long OAM.
John has held 85 solo exhibitions so far, with the very first one in 1973. His work is held in public institutions and in corporate collections in Australia and overseas.
In 1982, John was made a Fellow of the Bega Art Society, in 2000 of the Royal Art Society and in 2004 of the Australian Society of Marine Artists. He is passionate about the sea, and he travelled to East Timor in 2000 as an official Navy artist and documented naval and peacekeeping activities in paintings. He continues to paint historical and present day naval activities, and a gallery has been named after him at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at HMAS Albatross. He also finds endless inspiration in the Australian bush and enjoys sharing its beauty in his work. His learning continues.
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Awards & Achievements
1974 – 2nd prize, Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Art Competition
1976, 1977, 1978 – 1st prize, Caltex Art Award
1986 – Kiama Council Commercial Garden Art Design Award
1987 – Australian Navy 75 Year Anniversary National Seascape Art Competition
1988 – First artist ever invited to hold an exhibition at the Mitchell Library in Sydney
1989 – Japanese Cultural Award and Citation, 25th Taiyo Art Award
1999 – 1st prize for outstanding painting, 35th Annual Pacific Cultural Exhibition, Japan
2000 – John’s painting featured on NSW Parliament House Christmas Card
2001 – 1st prize, Kiama Art Awards
2004 – President’s Medal, Australian Society of Marine Artists
2005 – 1st prize, Royal Motor Yacht Club Maritime Exhibition
2015 – Kiama Arts Honour Roll, Kiama Municipal Council
2016 – Life membership of the Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia, and a new gallery at the Fleet Air Arm Museum named after John
2017 – Order of Australia Medal for contribution to the visual arts and the community
2019 – Life membership of Shoalhaven Art Society
John Downton’s Bicentennial Art Exhibition Booklet, from the Mitchell Library exhibition, Sydney 1988
The Dirty Big Red Book: Downton, An Artist on the Move Autobiography 2009