Joseph Drapell was born into the German—and later Soviet—occupied small town of Humpolec (near Prague) in 1940. Drapell escaped his birth country at his first opportunity at the age of twenty-five in order to develop his art in the free West. He landed in Halifax in 1966, grateful to Canada for accepting him. Drapell adopted an island (B-109) in Georgian Bay as his new spiritual home.
Drapell's aim was to contribute to the art of painting, rather than to merely make a living as an artist. Between 1968 and 1970, he studied under various visiting artists and lecturers at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. This is where he first started to develop his compression technique as a response to the paintings of Morris Louis. He settled in Toronto in 1970. Drapell walked the streets of New York with a roll of large paintings, until he was discovered by the Robert Elkon Gallery on Madison Avenue. After three exhibitions there (and several in Toronto where he was discovered by Jared Sable of the Dunkelman Gallery), Drapell achieved his first artistic breakthrough in 1974 with the Great Spirit Paintings. Joseph divides his time between Toronto and Georgian Bay (Lake Huron).