He was born in Pylos, Messinia in 1912 and studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts, under Thomopoulos, Argyros and Vikatos (1930-36). He continued his studies in Paris, at the École des Beaux-Arts under Charles Guerin and at the Academies Colarossi και Julian, on a three-year grant by the Academy of Athens (1938-40). In 1940, he returned to Greece because of the Greek-Italian war. From 1946 to 1967 he was in charge of the cultural events programme for the Workers Social Benefits Organization (OEE).
In the early years of his artistic career, his painting was figurative, with apparent influences by his studies in Athens and Paris. Around 1954, his style started to shift gradually towards abstraction. In his painting, he employs the expressive power of texture, by attaching and integrating various materials into the work's surface. The gestural interventions (scratches, tears, stains, handwriting) and the evocative use of colour create a personal style of an intensely dramatic nature.
He was one of the first Greek artists to be affiliated with the movement of abstract art. However, although he lived in Greece, his artistic presence in the country was very limited: He had very few participations in group exhibitions, while he organized only one solo show in Athens (Parnassos gallery, 1950) and one in Thessaloniki (Techni gallery, 1960). It was only after 1980, that he would begin to present his printmaking work somewhat regularly.
He represented Greece in the Biennales of Alexandria (1955), Sao Paulo (1957) and Venice (together with Kondopoulos, Lameras, Mylona and Papadimitriou, 1960), where he was awarded the Unesco Prize. He participated in the Documenta III (Kassel, Germany, 1964), in the greek and the international Pavilion of Expo 1970 (Osaka, Japan), in the Documenta Sammlung Kunsteverein (Kassel, Germany, 1975) and in many other international art fairs. At the same time, his work was showcased in solo exhibitions in galleries and museums worldwide, outside Greece (other european countries, America, Australia, Asia). His international presence established him as an important representative of the european abstract art. He received the Gold Medal of Ostend (Belgium, 1961), the Commander of the Phoenix Medal (Greece, 1966) and the Gottfried-von-Herder Prize (Austria, 1978).
The Foundation Jannis and Zoe Spyropoulos was established in 1990, the year of his death (Athens), in order to study and promote his work, as well as to support young artists with an annual grant. The primary concern of the Foundation was the presentation of the artist's painting work, that was little known in Greece. Thus, from 1994 to 1998, posthumous retrospective exhibitions were organized at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (Thessaloniki, 1994), the Athens National Art Gallery (Athens, 1955) and in several other Greek cities. His last major retrospective was presented at the Benaki Museum (Athens, 2010).
Three monographs on his work have been published: in 1962, written by Chrysanthos Christou, in 1989, written by Effie Strouza and edited and published by Nees Morfes gallery, and in 2010, written and edited by Yiannis Papaioannou.