Arriving in San Francisco, upon his discharge from the navy in 1946, Grillo enrolled in the San Francisco School of Fine Arts. Although he resided in the Bay Area for just two short years, he is widely regarded as having played a seminal role in the development of the northern California branch of abstract expression. In fact, John Grillo’s freewheeling paintings were inspirational and influential for the then up-and-coming painter, Richard Diebenkorn.
In 1948, Grillo left San Francisco for New York City, where he studied with Hans Hofmann—a kindred spirit with whom he shared a passion for color. During this time in New York, scale, and improvisatory gesture began to play a more important role in his art, resulting in a series of abstract canvases and collages in a range of vibrant, luminous yellows, that seemed to evoke the power of light and sunshine. Grillo’s signature style, marked by a fascination for bold colors and grid-like patterns, was formed during this period. The warm colors of his canvases earned Grillo comparisons to Renoir and Rubens. The work “Magic Squares,” included in this exhibition, is an excellent example of the work of this important period of Grillo’s artistic career.
Grillo’s acceptance in 1967 of an invitation to join the faculty at University of Massachusetts, Amherst saw him embark on a teaching career that would last 25 years as a beloved and inspirational instructor.
Over the course of his six-decade career, Grillo had over 85 solo shows. His works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Brooklyn Museum, among others.