Emanuel was born in Bury, Lancashire, and though he did an apprenticeship in decorating and signwriting never formally studied art. He began to paint in his thirties, though not to exhibit, and in 1964 came to St Ives. He acknowledges the help at that time from Alexander MACKENZIE, Denis MITCHELL and John Clayworth Spencer WELLS among others, and took up membership in both the NSA (being Chairman 1977-78) and the Penwith Society of Artists.
He is primarily known for his nude studies, many of his long-time partner Janet AXTEN. The Tate St Ives commissioned him to create an etching for the opening of the gallery in 1993. His work is shown widely in mixed shows and solo exhibitions in the UK and abroad. He works from his studio overlooking Porthminster Beach, St Ives.
John works from the Porthmeor Studios, St Ives (2011), which have been in process of renovation this year. Some of these studios will be ready for re-opening for OPEN STUDIOS Cornwall (28 May-5 June 2011).