Monday, January 31, 2011

In passing....John Poynton.

The death of English painter John Poynton in adopted homeland of Samoa, last month in his home on the falls of Mt Vaea in the village of Palisi.

John lived in Samoa from the 1970s and once had a ram-shackled gallery on the foreshore near the Government buildings on Beach Road. In more recent years he fell upon what he freely admitted ,in a matter of fact way, were hard times. He had unsuccessful surgery in Samoa to correct a sight problem, he described the operation as a 'botch up' which left him with poor vision and he was frustrated by needing to use his pencil or paint brush with his 'good' eye only centimetres from the work while holding his 'bad' eye closed.

The last time I saw him he was walking out from a fast food store holding his portfolio of paintings and drawings in one arm and food in his free hand just brought with money from the sale of some drawings and paintings. I didn't know the man well but by some good fortune some in my family did, seeing him reminded me of the many writers and artists that have come under the spell of the South Pacific and who, like John, were devoted to their work in an exotic life-style that endlessly changed shape in one's imagination.

Salute John


  1. It is good to read that someone has made a public comment abuot John. I knew John quite well and visited him in late 2010. I had known John for 15 or more years when he was in his fale on Beach Road.

  2. Thanks anonymous. If you ever feel inclined please feel free to share any stories about John. It was a pleasure for me to meet the man however fleetingly. Fortunately I have access to some of his drawings and paintings, one in particular is becoming something of a favourite of mine. With permission I may enter it on here sometime for others to enjoy. I hope his life will be long celebrated through his work and for the romance of becoming lost (or perhaps found, however you may look at it) in the Pacific.

  3. It was sad to hear John Poynton had passed away. I was recently in Samoa and expected him to be sitting by the poolside at Aggie's quietly chatting to people about his art. When he didn't show I asked around and heard the news. We have purchased a few of his pieces over the past 8 years. He certainly had a passion for his adopted homeland, which is evident in alot of his art works. Go well on your journey John...

  4. I am certainly saddened to hear of John's passing - but thank you for posting a public tribute to the man. I had the pleasure of meeting John on a number of occasions during my time in Samoa. His artwork (to me) was simply amazing. I couldn't get over how simply he could depict the Samoan landscape with the touch of a pen or the stroke of a brush. I, for one, will celebrate his life through his artworks that hang proudly around my house. All the best John.

  5. The things which have fixated me about John's work is not only their apparent simplicity but the underlying patterns which feature lust, primal recognition that the islands (and John's Samoa in particular) remain as a romantic, sometimes tragic mirror from the beginning of time. He was able to celebrate what others might see as the primitive. He appears to have been immersed and taken by the pure pleasure and excitment of being able to witness and transcribe to art the doorsteps of time.

  6. Oh what?, you're kidding me ? I didn't know. I'm truly sad to hear that.

    I met John many times over the years and I always like the frank way in which he spoke of his life and problems. I last saw him in 2010 and (once again bought a couple of pictures off him) he was sharing with me his worry and concern over his afakasi son who was getting into mischief with the law. Does anyone know how he is these days?
    Having lived and worked in Samoa for years at a time, mainly in one of the back villages clearing and growing on my plantation, John was a living reminder to me of what could happen if I stayed on the island for too long. I knew I needed to get away for my sanity, back to civilisation at least for a while. if only to speak english again and to have a normal conversation about ordinary western things. Now I need to get away from civilisation again (go figure) so will be moving back later in 2012.

    Never the less, an observation that I have made about palagis, like myself who live in the islands for any length of time is the fact that these people always have an interesting story to tell. The people who tend to play it safe and cover all their bases and won't take a chance in life are usually the people you pass in the street each day living there safe predictable BORING life out. To what end?
    One thing about John, he didn't play it safe and in many ways , Truly lived!
    Viia le Atua!

  7. Thank for sharing that Al.
    I don't know about John's afakasi son, perhaps someone will read this and let us know - the son himself hopefully.
    Your story sounds fantastic in itself. As you know the jokes about the back villages abound, my motherinlaw often describing any persons difficulties as resulting from living in the 'back villages' or out the back. I much admired the plantation workers and as you know many land holders 'out the back' run small farms and plantations which are very self-sufficient.
    I've worked in Samoa and American Samoa a few times on enviromental 'projects' and had the rare distinction of a major confrontation with the Minister of the Post Office, who as you may know was later convicted for his role in the killing of an MP.
    Your discription of live there is classic. You may have at sometime met Professor Kurt Durring who was in a dispute for some years with the PM who wouldn't return his passport.
    No John did not use safety, and the description of the artist generally is of someone prepared to explore and expose their inner selves. John did that in style, his lack of conservatism in many ways would shock others. Additionally that lack of conservatism could also induce a patronising attitude from some toward John, as though he were a little bit odd when in reality he completely owned his own life with a rare courage - the man walking the streets most often dressed in white and carrying his newest sketches and paintings as if they were his life itself.
    Nice to hear from you. If you do return to your 'other' life again please consider sending the odd account of how things are going which I'm sure will be of great interest.

  8. Hello,
    Does anyone know about John travelling to Greece in the early 70's? I have 2 beautiful large watercolours with Greek themes one dated 1971 and the other dated 1974. Was he in Greece before going to Samoa? I would like to know more about the man and his work. Extremely talented!

    1. I have 2 paintings from John Poynton dated 1970. They were bought from John in Greece while he painted in Mykonos. My aunt purchased them directly from him in 1970

  9. I have known John very well since I was a Peace Corps volunteer in 1978-1980.
    John travelled in Greece before he came to Samoa,he even jumped a train while there and spent a brief period of time in A Greek jail for illegal entry..
    He had two Samoan wives and three sons. A set of the sons are twins,. One is in England working in a small shop, the other is a rugby player in... France...I think? The third is in and out of jail in Samoa. John had an exceedingly difficult time with his boys and his wives.
    I had remained in contact with him over the years and have volumes of letters from him. My house is filled with his paintings/ drawings and it looks like a museum to his work.
    My wife and I taught in American Samoa from 1985-1987 and John always stayed with us - he gave us a painting or drawing with each stay.
    My 12 year-0ld daughter and I spent a night in his "new" house on Mnt Vaia in 2004. We called it the night of a thousand noises. My daughter was horrified at the baying of the dogs, the jungle wasps and the B-52 sized mosquities. But for me it was a night in John's simple life.
    In April 2008 I went back to Samoa and spent time with John, mostly sitting with him at Aggies, or one of the new burger joints on Beach Road. I always brought requested painting supplies for him. In return he'd give me a painting. He was always on poverty's doorstep.
    His passing saddens me to the bone. He was one of the few who gave up all for art and survived just barely with his pencil and brush.
    I have one less reason to visit Samoa now.
    Thanks for this site
    Paul Karrer
    Monterey California
    Peace Corps Group 27

  10. Thanks for that Paul, and for answering Pandos's question about Greece, and whose paintings by John, with a Greek theme, would be fascinating to view.
    Those B-52 sized mosquitoes still abound. Aah, I can imagine the gossip between his wifes and their families, no doubt culminating in discriptions of what happens to bad palagis, or those that get involved with the worst kind of women. Oh dear.
    I can understand your sadness at his passing, but we do know that he held to his art to the end, and that despite the difficulties, he left this earth still embracing the art he most loved.
    Yes, the poverty and the restlessness to keep to his work. What a pleasure for you to have known him so well and for having the kindness and patience to bring him supplies - his life blood indeed. John's story is more remarkable than I realised and to know that he was bound down to a chaotic personal life perhaps helps me understand his need to paint and re-create. His most insightful voice was within his work and at least upon the shores of Samoa, he was both a rich palangi and later a poor palangi - yet in his paintings, sketches and other mediums a pure artist.

  11. Hello again and thanks for the blogs. This explains the Greek connection. I thought I was seeing things when an artist in Samoa was signing Greek themed paintings! I would gladly send pictures of the paintings to anyone interested. Just post your email here.
    Thanks again,

  12. Hi Pandos. Would be very grateful if you sent on pictures to
    I may put them on here with your permission.
    I hope somebody may also have a photo of John which I could reproduce here.


  13. We met John in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in 1978, bought some beautiful paintings by him and entertained him in our home on Devils Point Road a few times, so sorry to hear about his demise, such a nice guy.

  14. Another example of how inseparable he was from his art. A night on Devils Point Road has evokes many thoughts. Classic recall Nick.

  15. i have not meet john myself but have been fascinated and amazed by his artist skill and the stories my father has told me of john i would be grateful if any of you will be willing to share your stories or experiences of/with john if so please contact myself on thank you