John Glashan was best known as the creator of the cartoon strip, ‘Genius’, which developed a cult following during its five-year run in the Observer. His passion for fine watercolour painting allowed him to develop his world of tiny figures inhabiting beautiful, vast, baroque interiors and sweeping landscapes. John Glashan was born John McGlashan in Glasgow on 24 December 1927. His father, Archibald McGlashan, was a portrait painter who became a Royal Scottish Academician in 1938 and President of the Glasgow Art Club in 1959. He was educated at Woodside School and, following his National Service, went on to study painting and drawing at Glasgow School of Art. In 1945, he won the gold medal in a Glasgow Corporation schools drawing competition.
Whilst at Glasgow School of Art, he provided illustrations for the Glasgow University magazines, GUM and Ygorra.
In the 1950s, John McGlashan moved to London with the intention of making a living as a painter, settling in a 6 x 3 foot garret. From 1953, he began submitting cartoons to Punch to supplement his income, dropping the ‘Mc’ from his signature. In 1959, he found an enthusiastic supporter in Denis Pitts, editor of the monthly magazine, Lilliput. He produced three cartoons per issue for Lilliput until its closure in 1960, as well as a number of covers. Shortly after he began producing work for Jocelyn Stevens’s newly revamped magazine, Queen. In 1961, the year that it was launched, he began submitting cartoons to Private Eye. A collection of his Private Eye cartoons, The Jokes of John Glashan: The Meths Festival and other celebrations, was published in 1975. He was a founder member of the British Cartoonists’ Association in 1966.
Between the 1960s and 1990s, John Glashan’s cartoons featured in a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including The New Yorker, Town and Country, Tatler, Time Out, Radio Times and The Sunday Times. In 1978, he started at the Observer, producing a weekly cartoon strip for the Observer Magazine, taking over from Jules Feiffer.
The strip, ‘Genius’, which featured the adventures of Anode Enzyme, a man with an IQ of 12,794, and his patron Lord Doberman, the richest man in the world, would become Glashan’s most famous creation. The strip ran for 228 episodes and won him the Glen Grant Strip Cartoon Award in 1981. ‘Genius’ developed something of a cult following during its five-year run. As the magazine’s editor, Peter Crookston explained, ‘the world was divided into those who thought it was a work of genius and those who didn’t get it. Donald Trelford [the newspaper’s then editor] hated it; I defended it to the death’. When Trevor Grove took over as the magazine’s editor in 1983, the strip was dropped.
In 1984, BBC Scotland Television produced an arts feature documentary about Glashan’s work, directed by Ken MacGregor. Titled ‘John Glashan: Genius’, the documentary brought Anode Enzyme and Lord Doberman to life, played by John Buick and Neil Connery respectively.
Following the end of the ‘Genius’ strip, Glashan began to return his focus towards landscape and portrait painting and continued to paint in watercolour throughout his life. He held exhibitions of his landscape paintings at the Francis Kyle Gallery in 1979 and 1983, and the Fine Art Society in 1991 and 1994, and shows of his cartoons at The Cartoon Gallery in 1991 and the Grosvenor Gallery in 1995.
In 1988, Glashan was persuaded by Michael Heath to start producing weekly, half-page cartoons for The Spectator, which ran until illness prevented him from working in 1998.
Glashan illustrated several books, including Tonight and Other Nights (1959), Sweet & Sour (1983), Small Parts in History (1985) and Journal of a Collector (1994). In addition to this, a number of collections of his cartoons were published – The Eye of the Needle (1961), Speak Up You Tiny Fool (1966), The Penguin John Glashan (1967) and John Glashan’s World (1991).
John Glashan died in London on 15 June 1999 at the age of 71, and was survived by his wife, Anna, and their two children, Alex and Iona.
The artwork in the estate of John Glashan is exclusively represented by Chris Beetles Gallery. The family retain copyright.