John Barrett was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1952 and grew up in Manhattan Beach, California. He began pursuing his career as an artist in the late 1960s influenced by his great-grandfather, a painter. His grandmother, a photographer and wood worker, gave him his first oil paints and enrolled him in drawing lessons at age 10.
John suffered a brain injury as a child and was diagnosed with learning disabilities in the 1950s. In spite of his limitations in reading and spelling he pursued his education at El Camino College in Torrance, California. Living in a garage, with limited resources, and determined to learn more about making art, John persevered at the college from 1971 to 1974. Eventually he was instrumental in founding the school’s first lithography lab and became a student teacher in lithography and monoprints.