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John has been a practicing artist for 62 years and taught university art classes for 46 years. He has exhibited in over 467 exhibitions including 50 one-man shows internationally, nationally and regionally, and he has art in public and private collections in 27 states and 18 countries. He served as president of the Sedona Art Museum 2012-2014.

His watercolors capture the energy of the red rocks of the Sedona landscape with spatial illusions of shapes and colors that give the viewer the experience of being in the landscape. His preferred media are oil, acrylic, watercolor, photography, and encaustic.

Oakes was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, about an hour north of Nashville, Tennessee. As a teenager, he studied watercolor in the home of Ivan Wilson. a prominent regional watercolorist, He obtained the M.A. and M.F.A from the University of Iowa and holds post-graduate certification from Harvard University.

He and his wife, Elizabeth, a poet and a former university Shakespeare professor, lived in Woodstock, New York, and Glastonbury, England, before moving to Sedona in 2012. Oakes was made a charter Master Signature Artist of the Sedona Area Guild of Artists in 2012.