Born in Middlesex, in 1912, John Milnes-Smith was a painter and collagist, notably of abstract work. He trained as an architect at the Architectural Association from 1934-1938, qulifying in 1939. During the war, he served with the 14th Army and in Burma. After the war, he worked in private practice as an architect and became a specialist in planning regulations, specifically in the field of the conservation and preservation of historic buildings. From 1963 to 1978, he worked with the Historic Buildings Division of the Greater London Council.
Milnes-Smith only began to paint in the late 1940's - this was in a representational style, but he soon moved towards. Milnes-Smith's paintings of the 1950's have a European feel to them, close in spirit to that of William Gear RA and Alfred Manessier, both of whose paintings utilised a linear armature containing areas of strong colour.
By the late 1950's, Milnes-Smith's paintings had become more emotional and gestural in response to the pervading influence of the Abstract Expressionists but, unlike them, his works were modest in size. It was around this time that he began to produce collages, combining torn scraps of printed and plain paper with crayon lines. He used ephemera such as old gallery invitation, paint charts, fragments of documents, scraps of discarded drawings and paintings, even attaching paper and card to the background support with pins. These works, made intuitively, have an almost casual, effortless effect, as well as great vitality and sophistication.
He participated in many group shows throughout the 1950's, including the London Group, the Insitute of Contemporary Arts, the Redfern Gallery, Lords Gallery, the Artists' International Association and 'British Abstract Art' at Gimpel Fils. In 1958, Milnes-Smith was included in 'British Abstract Painting' at the Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand, and in 1961, he was one of 'Eight British Artists' at the Jefferson Place Gallery in Washinton, D.C. His first solo show was in 1959, at the New Vision Centre Gallery and, in 1963, he his first solo show at the Drain Gallery, where he continued to exhibit for over 20 years.