Johan Dijkstra, born in Groningen, takes after the three-year HBS the Hogere Handelsschool and from 1915 afternoon lessons at the Academy Minerva. There he, like Jan Altink, is taught by the non-conformist painter F.H. Bach, the teacher who took his students outside to paint the landscape on the spot. A popular place was the Blauwborgje, a farmyard on the Reitdiep, where Dijkstra would return a lot later. After obtaining the MO certificate of drawing, he went to Amsterdam for another year in 1919 to further focus on painting at the National Academy. While still a student at Minerva in 1918, Dijkstra was one of the founders of the Groninger Kunstkring De Ploeg and took part in the first Plowing Exhibition in 1919. The press is full of praise. During this time Dijkstra maintains himself with making illustrations and advertising work, just like Altink. In 1922 he married Marie van Veen, a fellow student from Hefswal.
In his early years, Dijkstra often went out with Altink to paint. Both are attracted to the typical Groningen landscape and the hard-working farm workers. In 1921 he starts to experiment with color and technique. Initially he was inspired by the radiant colors and the brushstrokes of Vincent van Gogh's paintwork with short brushstrokes. In this style he paints cityscapes and landscapes. With this he stood outside the expressionism of the other Ploeg members, who had already become acquainted with the art and ideas of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner through Jan Wiegers. The Ploegmakkers often go out together and like to settle down with Blauwborgje. Or they drive to Oostum to paint the church there. Was this because this church was so much more beautiful than other Groningen churches? The reason is not so prosaic; many team members painted places that were within cycling distance because they did not have a car. Dijkstra said of the churches in Groningen: 'It was as if they were calling to be painted'. He thought that in the countryside of Groningen you always saw a church around you in the distance, built in red brick, made of the local Groningen clay and thus inextricably linked to the landscape.
It was not until around 1926, a little later than with the other Ploeg members, that a fierce expressionism, influenced by the German expressionist Kirschner, made its appearance in Dijkstra's work and his use of color became increasingly daring and the forms freer. Instead of small strips of oil paint, he paints landscapes, cityscapes and portraits in large areas of wax paint in bright, almost clashing colors. His graphics show the same dynamics and expressiveness, especially in etchings and woodcuts.
Towards the end of the 1920s, we see an understated, impressionist artist, albeit retaining his bold, bright colors. During that time Dijkstra also took on many commissions for glass art and mosaic. He makes windows for the auditorium of the University of Groningen, designs gobelins for the first room in The Hague and makes murals for the Groningen town hall. He does, however, continue to draw and paint freely, more true to nature than before.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, it becomes impossible to carry out monumental commissions and Dijkstra picks up brush and canvas again. He must register with the Kultuurkamer, but does not participate in official exhibitions. He retreats to the countryside where he mainly records the Groningen landscape and makes many portraits of his friends. He continues to be interested in the Groningen landscape with its extensive grain fields, churches and mounds. In a time of scaling up and land consolidation, he chooses to capture simple farm life and a landscape that will be lost. He no longer cares about modern artistic movements. As a monumental artist he remains popular even after the war and makes windows for the Geertekerk in Utrecht, among other things.
Dijkstra started writing texts for publications by and about De Ploeg back in the 1920s. From the 1930s on, he also wrote as a critic for various newspapers, including the Provinciale Groninger Courant, the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden and the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant. Unfortunately, his last years were not his happiest. After the death of his wife, his artistic production came to a halt. His creativity seemed to have left him and his health was rapidly deteriorating. Due to his fierce art critiques, he had few friends left. Dijkstra died at the age of 81 in Groningen. His estate is managed by the Johan Dijkstra Foundation.