John Koerner is 100 years old and still making art. Really. If you haven’t heard of Koerner—a Vancouver-based modernist painter who basically kick-started said movement in Canada—or seen his work, you’re missing out. Lucky for you, he’s having a birthday party on June 9 in Burnaby, B.C., where you can hear him speak and see his work. (Or, you can watch a talk he gave about his work and life at the Elliot Louis Gallery in Vancouver right now.)
Before you go anywhere, though, here’s a primer on his crazy, long, inspiring life. As it turns out, you can do a lot of amazing things in a century.
Koerner was born in the Czech Republic in 1913. At the age of 25 he moved to Vancouver, leaving his studies in law at the University of Prague. It was 1938, and his family was fleeing the Nazis. His parents set up a lumber business in New Westminster, and though he worked there, he says “My contribution could only have been minimal because of my total lack of business sense.” He became a Canadian citizen in 1944. Before all that, at 16, his parents sent him to Paris to improve his French. He was a very serious young guy. “The nightlife of the city appalled me,” he says. “Incredible but true, all my time was spent drawing, painting and visiting museums.”
He has since taught drawing and painting at what is now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and the University of British Columbia. In 100 years, he has also painted commissioned murals across British Columbia, was a close friend of Lawren Harris, and has had solo exhibitions as far away as Japan. If that’s not enough to wow you, Koerner is also a published author—three times over. His first book Unseen Dimensions was published in 1997, his second, A Brush with Life in 2005, and his third, John Koerner: Drawings and Observations, will be launched at his birthday party at the Burnaby Art Gallery June 9.
Happy birthday John Koerner!