John Charles Wood Heath (Jack) was born in Cannock in Staffordshire into what he always proudly referred to as a working-class family. Heath was a voracious reader of, history, biography, comparative religion and of course art. He was a serious student of the Quattrocento, with a deep interest in the science of picture-making of the period. He applied his knowledge in the great series of religious works which he commenced in 1956, and this knowledge is manifest up to his final large abstracts from 1966 to 1969.
During the War he as posted to Cornwall, where he was responsible for the establishment of a school for training pilots in camouflage methods, aerial photographic interpretation and close army support. The diversion of seven years of war service, appalling though it was, was not entirely without value for JHeath’s subsequent career. Setting up a military school honed his confidence in his powers of both organisation and instruction which he would later apply to setting up art schools in South Africa. Furthermore, the long years of familiarity with the practicalities of the visual art of camouflage, the aerial photography and the model-making for the coastal defences had a clear and fascinating influence on his subsequent career as an artist, up to and including his most abstract work.
In mid-1946 Heath took up a post at Rhodes University College as Lecturer in Painting and Drawing but was subsequently head-hunted by the Port Elizabeth Technical College, and he was appointed Head of the Art School in 1947. Heath was a passionaote and progressive teacher, he fought for financial aid for poor students and for scholarships for the gifted, and he introduced classes for the Coloured and Chinese communities of the city.
In addition to his vigorous teaching and organizational duties, he drew regular political cartoons and humorous drawings for the Saturday Post.
Together with his fellow artist and wife Heath undertook several mural commissions, he gave lecture series for the public, and of course, he continued to make his own work.
Professor Alfred Rooks wrote “Behind the military exterior of an officer and a gentleman was hidden quite a different, highly attractive personality. There was the sensitive aesthete and artist of no mean calibre, a deep thinker……and a very honest and humble man. (His) works gave expression to all that he was, to the previously mentioned characteristics and to many more, likewise endearing: his humour, his sense of pity, his affection for his fellows, and his sense of justice. Fine artist that he was, he never displayed arrogance, dogmatism or eccentricity. There was no pathetic craving for self-expression disguised as wisdom… To students and colleagues, he will always remain an example to follow and imitate in search of true humanity and real virtues.”