JOHN GRILLO: THE MOSAIC PAINTINGS
Through December 23, 2010
ACME Fine Art, 38 Newbury Street, Boston MA
Gallery hours: 11 am to 5:30 pm, Tuesday through Saturday
View the exhibition online at acmefineart.com
John Grillo was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1917 and was raised in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was inspired to become an artist by an exhibition of portraits that he saw as a teenager at the Wadsworth Atheneum. Grillo’s first formal training was at the Hartford School of Fine Arts from 1935-39 where he studied painting. Grillo suspended his studies between 1944-46 to serve in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theatre of World War II. At the conclusion of his military service, Grillo enrolled at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts on the GI Bill.
While in San Francisco Grillo played a seminal role in forming the San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism and he is today recognized as one of the most original and influential artists of that movement. In 1948, Grillo returned to the East Coast and entered the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in New York, and later in Provincetown. Grillo went on to take up permanent residence on Cape Cod in the town of Wellfeet where he lives and paints to this day.
In New York during the 1950s, Grillo worked alongside such artists as Willem deKooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Nanno de Groot, and Lester Johnson. The mosaic paintings that are featured in this ACME Fine Art exhibition were executed between 1950 and 1952 and are a Grillos’ singular, personal, and directly painted response to the concepts espoused by his teacher, Hans Hofmann. Their exuberant spontaneity is immediately evident and they convey an almost contagious joi-de-vivre. Although the underlying structure of these paintings may not be apparent, they are loosely based on a grid structure overlaid with a series of interlocking painterly patches and/or circles of color. The overall effect is deeply emotionally expressive without being chaotic.
Also in the early 1950s, Grillo introduced the notion of the shaped canvas to his work. Two rare examples are featured in this exhibition: Oval Mosaic, a modern interpretation of the Renaissance tondo and Untitled Mosaic, where the artist used a tall trapezoidal wooden ironing board as a substrate. Perhaps these pieces prefigure works by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg who first began working with shaped canvases later in the same decade.
Although a number of his contemporaries explored the mosaic conceit in their work –Jan Muller and William Freed among them- Grillo was one of the few who painted purely abstract, non-objective mosaic paintings. Although intensely colorful, Grillo’s mosaics seem to emerge from a limited palette, often on a neutral ground with just a few, almost -primary hues. Grillo has said that, “Abstract painting is on a level with music. It’s a physical outburst from your whole being. It’s not the idea that is created and then you start painting. It’s always a challenge to shape something from nothing, to do the impossible.” Grillo’s affinity with music is evident in the vibrancy and motility of his mosaic paintings.
Grillo’s work is featured in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, The British Museum, Walker Art Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Worcester Museum of Art, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, among many others.