John Bowman seems to have been a rather reclusive artist, as little is known about his life. He was born in 1872, presumably in or around Nottingham, as he is recorded as having entered the Nottingham School of Art in March 1887, aged 14, where he almost certainly studied under Thomas Barrett alongside Harold and Laura Knight. He continued to study at the Nottingham School of Art part-time until 1899, and two years later he became a founding member of the Staithes Art Club.
In 1903, Bowman moved from Nottingham to Sandsend near Whitby, where he lived until around 1911. Later in life he moved south, and his last known address was in Elstree, Hertfordshire, in 1915. His date of death is unknown.
John Bowman exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Walker Gallery, Liverpool, the Staithes Art Club, and the Nottingham Society of Artists, the latter of which he was elected a member (although the date of this is disputed).