John Koerner was born in 1913 in Moravia in what is known today as the Czech Republic. He studied Law at the University of Prague and then went to Paris to study Philosphy and Art History at the Sorbonne. He always had an interest in art too and studied with artist Fritz Kausek in Prague and later with Victor Tischler, Othon Friesz and Paul Colin in Paris.
At the onset of World War II, Koerner fled pre-war Europe in 1938 to escape the Nazi threat and immigrated to British Columbia, where he worked at his uncle's lumber mill in New Westminster. In 1951, he was able to leave his job for his first love, art. He painted and studied. He taught at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design) from 1953-58 and later at the University of British Columbia from 1959-71. Koerner formed friendships that would prove hugely influential, with artists such as Gordon Smith, B.C. Binning, Jack Shadbolt and Lawren Harris, and together, they influenced a generation of painters in Vancouver.
Koerner passed away in 2013 at the age of 100. He celebrated his 100th birthday at the Burnaby Art Gallery earlier that year.