Forever Young Nearing the end of a career that has spanned seven decades, John Grillo continues to produce paintings that are inspired, exuberant and deeply sensual. BY JANICE RANDALL ROHLF
ohn Grillo turns ninety-five on July 4. On a recent spring day, he rode a stair elevator to the second-floor studio of his Cape Cod farmhouse, steadied himself with two paint-splattered canes and put the finishing touches on his latest work of art: a pair of abstract panels. He says these may be his last, but it’s hard to imagine a career as prolific, vital and history-making as Grillo’s ever running out of steam. “His whole life has centered around making art, and he’s still inspired,” says Christine McCarthy, executive director of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM). “His process is still very fresh.” While Grillo takes pleasure in what he does now, his
work from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s is currently drawing much attention. Last fall, David Hall Fine Art, the Wellesley, Massachusetts, gallery that represents Grillo in New England, held an exhibition that focused on the vibrant pieces the artist created during this period. “It’s exciting, innovative and very much ahead of its time,” says Louis Newman, director of New York City’s David Findlay Jr. Gallery. “When you look at a Grillo, you don’t confuse it with anyone else’s work . . . it’s wholly original.” Grillo, a native of Lawrence, Massachusetts, was classically trained at Clockwise from top left: Abstract Expressionist woodcut (1955), woodcut on paper, 16" × 22"; abstract (1956), oil on canvas, 84" × 22"; abstract (1957), oil on canvas, 18" × 18"
Connecticut’s Hartford School of Fine Arts while still in his teens. In the mid-1940s he joined the Navy and was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. “I became abstract because someone suggested I experiment more,” explains the artist. “I don’t know,” he adds, with a twinkle in his eye, “maybe I wanted to be very wild after being confined in the Navy.” Whatever the reason, Grillo, a pioneer of San Francisco’s post–World War II school of abstract expressionism and a disciple of Hans Hofmann in New York and 34 New England Home’s Cape & Islands Summer 2012