Savio was born in Bugøyfjord in Sør-Varanger in Finnmark, Norway. His parents died when he was 3 years old, first his mother from tuberculosis, then his father from drowning on the Varangerfjord while he was sailing to Vadsø to buy a coffin for his wife. This left John Savio to be brought up by his grandparents on his mother's side. His grandparents were fairly rich by the standards in Finnmark at the time, and they had the means to give the child a good upbringing and education. He was sent to school in Vardø, where he received tutoring in drawing by Isak Saba.
After attending school in Vardø
After Vardø he spent the year 1918-1919 at Kvæfjord Private Middelskole in Borkenes, Kvæfjord in Troms. Then he went on to Bodø Gymnas in Bodø, Nordland, but he only stayed there for a short time before he went to Oslo to study at Ragna Nielsens skole in 1920. In Oslo he also took courses at Statens håndverks- og kunstindustriskole that year, but he became ill with tuberculosis and had to quit school. He had to get a lung removed, and he was hospitalised for months. He just barely recovered, and the poor health hampered him for the rest of his life. After recovering he went back to Oslo for a short time, before he went back north to Finnmark to try to obtain his inheritance from his now dead grandfather. He found that much of the money had been lost, but he still received some money.
The next years he travelled around in Finnmark, making prints, drawings and paintings. In the early 1930s he travelled in Western Norway and Northern Norway, he also made some trips outside Norway. During his life he had only a few exhibitions, two in Tromsø, and one in Paris. He spent much time knocking on doors trying to find buyers for his art. He sold his prints very cheaply, just to get by. At the end of his life he moved to Oslo again, where he lived in poverty.
Illness preceding death
«Backyard in Tromsø»
- Nerhus, Hans (1982) John Andreas Savio : Same og kunstner : En monografi, Forlaget Form og Farge, Oslo. ISBN 82-990709-1-0.
- Norsk Biografisk Leksikon
- Aftenposten. 1994-12-11.
Samenes kunstner: John Savio viet sitt virke til livet på vidda.