Artistry Provincetown, has never stopped experimenting. His paintings, which number in the thousands, are displayed in major museums, including the Metropolitan, Guggenheim and Whitney, and featured in the corporate collections of Merrill Lynch and Westinghouse. Critics have called his work “aggressive,” “freespirited” and “sensual.” His break from early figurative training spawned a prodigious career remarkable for its variety of styles, media and color themes: spontaneous and dramatically intense watercolors in the late ’40s; the colorful Mosaic series in the early ’50s; outsize yellow-drenched canvases with geometrical effects in the ’60s; and a flirtation with figuration in the ’70s that led to his exuberant
Circus, Tango, and Marilyn series. On occasion his palette of choice has been black and white. Art scholar and author Susan Landauer has called Grillo “perhaps the first and purest ‘action painter’ on the West Coast.” With his typical understatement, Grillo says that he “caused some excitement” in San Francisco but left after two years for the more lively art scene in New York, where his circle included celebrated abstract expressionists Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Grillo, who has described painting as “a physical outburst from your whole being,” hesitates when asked about his inspiration. “I don’t think anything inspired me, I just had a lot of energy.” With coaxing, he elaborates: “Van Gogh, Thomas Benton, Renoir, Picasso, of course, Mondrian . . . they all helped me develop in my own work.” But it was Hofmann, one of the most important figures of 36 New England Home’s Cape & Islands Summer 2011
postwar American art, who had the biggest impact on Grillo. “[H]e helped me become conscious of what I was doing at the time,” said Grillo in a 2009 Cape Cod Times article. As Hofmann had been to him, Grillo was a respected mentor during his twenty-five years as a professor of fine arts at UMass Amherst. “John was a great teacher,” says Peter Macara, assistant director and registrar of PAAM and a former student of Grillo’s. “He really took to heart the teachings of Hofmann. Not just about painting but also his role as a teacher—as a liberating force, not as a constraint.” And what does Grillo think Clockwise from top right: about all the acclaim he’s reAbstract (2012), oil on canvas, ceiving? “I feel happy that I’ve 20" × 16"; abstract (1949), been able to express myself. I oil on canvas, 15" × 12 ¾"; feel fulfilled by all these expe- abstract (1955), watercolor and gouache on paper, 40" riences. I feel I’ve gained × 55"; abstract (1964), watersomething,” he says, adding color on paper, 28" × 37" with what could pass as either humility or wry humor, “Whatever it is, I don’t know.” • Editor’s Note John Grillo is represented in New England by David Hall Fine Art, Wellesley, Massachusetts, (781) 235-0955, www.dhall fineart.com. To see more of the artist’s work, visit www.johngrillo.net.