John McNairn did not have many solo exhibitions during his lifetime. Exceptions were shows in Edinburgh at the Scottish Gallery in the eighties, the Phoenix 369 in 2004, and Bourne Fine Art in 2009, as well as several in the Borders - in Peebles, Selkirk, and Traquair. There were a number of exhibitions of paintings by more than one McNairn starting with a joint exhibition with his father in Glasgow in 1948 followed by another in the Scottish Gallery in April 1950. In 1989 there was Four Generations of McNairns at the Chambers Institution in Peebles. In 2010, a year after the death of John, and tragically, four days after the untimely death of his daughter Caroline, the exhibition - A Line in Paint - opened in his home town of Hawick. This was to celebrate the 100th aniversary of his birth and had paintings by his father, by his great-grandfather, and by Caroline.
John McNairn's work was often included in shows, for example The Borders in Watercolour, again at the Scottish Gallery along with Tom Scott, William Johnstone, William Gillies and Earl Haig.
An early showing of one of his works was in the 1931 SSA exhibition in Edinburgh which included, for the first time in the UK, the work of Edvard Munch. The power and immediacy of Munch's paintings had a profound effect on young Scottish artists including John McNairn, then aged 21. Also in Gallery II was a work by Andre Derain - the co-founder with Matisse of the Fauve Movement. These two inclusions in this exhibition informed McNairn's decision to attend the Academie Scandinave in Paris two years later. Othon Friesz, who was then teaching at the Academie, had been a leading member of the Fauve movement.
In 1954 his work The Red Field was included in a Scottish Arts Council exhibition entitled Contemporary Scottish Paintings. This was a collection of 36 paintings including works by William Gillies, John Maxwell, Robin Philipson, A.R. Sturrock, Anne Redpath, John Houston, William McTaggart, Earl Haig, and D.M. Sutherland.
In 1953 he was included in an exhibition of the Galashiels Studio Club of paintings from the impressive collection of Mrs. C.D. Scott of Laidlawstiel.