Alan Steven John Awards in Visual Arts

Born in East End London, England in 1951, Alan showed early artistic talent in art, crafts, painting and photography.  Though he wanted to be a painter or sculptor, Alan feared being a “starving artist” in post-WW2 England. He decided to work in landscaping and construction in order to earn tuition and support himself while attending college. In 1972, he graduated from The School of Art, Watford College of Technology, London, with a Diploma in Graphic Arts in the Grade A. The Watford school education was very comprehensive including design, drawing, painting, photography, typesetting, creating models and much more.

Alan started his career in graphic design and advertising in Manchester, England. After several years of barely making a living “surviving on dirt sandwiches”, Alan immigrated to booming Calgary, Canada in 1975. For a few years, he worked as the Creative Director at several advertising companies. He could not believe his pay was five times what he had earned in England and he could actually afford to buy meat for the first time. He bought his first hibachi BBQ and never looked back. He very proudly gained Canadian citizenship in January 1980.

An economic crash in the early 1980s pushed and inspired Alan to further mortgage his new home at the then usurious rates of 20+% to launch Watermark Advertising and Design. The phone did not ring. So, this determined but somewhat introverted guy applied himself to learn cold calling in order to drum up business. He often reflected on how he had spent his daytime hours going to potential clients armed with coloured magic markers. While listening to potential clients describe their business goals he would design possible ads on the fly. Late nights were spent producing concepts and finished products to present the next day.

Passionate about all things art and design, driven, relentlessly curious and fearlessly creative, Alan eventually built Watermark Advertising and Design into a team of more than 20 employees. In addition to creating, Alan also directed photoshoots on land, water and in the sky across North America. He viewed both his employees and his clients as much treasured family and loved the work. He dreamed of retirement when he would have time to paint and be creative with absolutely no demands. 

Alan loved everything about living in Western Canada, being in business, and helping clients grow their businesses. He was fascinated to learn what diverse clients did, how they did it and what they dreamed of achieving. He believed in community and giving back. The Watermark won many, many advertising awards, including awards for clients such as the Award of Excellence presented to The Faculty of Management at The University of Calgary in a best brochure or pamphlet category.  

Continuously kind, generous, caring, and often too trusting, Alan fearlessly took on opportunities and challenges, and squarely faced adversity, set-backs and betrayals. Never bitter, he focused on the good, the creative and the possible. Escaping the city life in 2001 with his beloved Golden Retriever Murphy, Alan turned his creativity toward transforming a simple log cabin on 7 acres of woods north of Cochrane into what friends came to call “the magic kingdom”. Finally, a beautiful studio was built with peace and quiet time to paint the drama of Alberta’s huge skies and prairie landscapes in oil and acrylic.

Alan and his partner of 17 years, Marilyn Johnson, moved to Vancouver Island in 2013 and shared the creative project of developing a new magic acreage, designing a new studio and an outdoor kitchen and gardens. Teased as ‘king of continuous pour’, Alan loved hosting friends and neighbours from command central - the BBQ and playing pool boy to Marilyn’s girlfriends. The move meant renewing as well as building delightful new friendships that included the arts community around Oceanside.

Alan died in May 2021 at the age of 70. Throughout his final four months living with a malignant brain tumor, Alan’s final wishes were to “change someone’s life – someone I have never met.” One initiative was to set up the Alan John Foundation for Fine Arts to help ease the path for few younger British Columbia artists to gain an education in Visual Arts. Alan hoped his gift would help students by paying for tuition plus some funds for art supplies, perhaps to mount a show, or travel to visual arts shows or conferences and living expenses.

Marilyn was left to research which university should receive these awards. In 2022, she has been proud and excited to choose The Department of Visual Arts at the University of Victoria as the one that most closely matched Alan’s criteria. She is excited to learn who receives the awards and plans to attend the end of year shows put on by students and follow careers when possible.

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