John Grillo Biography

John Grillo




John Grillo, painter, printmaker and teacher, was born on 4 July 1917 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. After his family relocated to Hartford, Connecticut in 1930, Grillo made frequent visits to the Wadsworth Atheneum, where he saw 18th and 19th century portraits that instilled in him a passion for art. He enrolled in the Hartford School of Fine Arts in 1935 and earned a diploma in 1938. In 1937, Grillo worked with Alexander Calder and Eugene Berman for Paper Ball: Cirque des Chiffoniers, a theatre production held at the Hartford Arts Festival.

In 1944, Grillo joined the Navy and served in Okinawa during World War II. There, he continued painting landscapes and scenes of daily life. It was not until he saw a reproduction of Robert Motherwell’s 1943 collage Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive that he began to experiment with abstraction.

Grillo was discharged in San Francisco in 1946 and he enrolled in the California School of Fine Arts under the G.I. Bill. He studied with Mark Rothko and worked with David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Hassel Smith and Clay Spohn. Though Grillo stayed in California for just two years before moving to New York in 1948, he is considered one of the more important Californian Abstract Expressionists. During his first three years on the east coast, Grillo studied with Hans Hofmann in New York and Provincetown.

Grillo taught at the Pratt Institute and the New School for Social Research in New York between 1964 and 1966. He received a Ford Foundation grant in 1964 to work at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, California. Grillo was also an artist-in-residence at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio and served as visiting artist at the University of California Berkeley, the Studio School of New York City, Iowa State University, and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. From 1967 until he retired in 1991, Grillo was a professor of fine arts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

John Grillo had over eighty-five solo exhibitions and, in 2014, the University of Massachusetts Amherst mounted a five-decade retrospective of Grillo’s work. He is represented in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, Maine; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine; the San José Museum of Art, California; the Museo Italo Americano, San Francisco; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts.

John Grillo died in Wellfleet, Massachusetts on 26 November 2014.