John Grillo is known as one of the greatest Abstract Expressionist painters to have emerged on the postwar artistic stage. In "Art in the San Francisco Bay Area" Thomas Albright pronounced John Grillo as "perhaps the first and purest 'action painter' on the West Coast and one of the most influential painters of San Francisco's school of Abstract Expressionism". He went on to play a seminal role in the post war Bay Area Abstract Expressionist movement that would revolutionize and forever change American Art. In 1948, Grillo left San Francisco for New York City, where he enrolled in Hans Hofmann's school of painting. Hofmann and Grillo were kindred spirits, sharing a mutual respect for one another's work that was similar in color and expression. Hofmann even owned a number of Grillo's works in his personal collection.
Upon Grillo's returned to the East Coast, he was welcomed into the fold of New York's avant-garde. Sam Hunter, reviewing his solo exhibition of San Francisco work at the Artist's Gallery for The New York Times in 1948, singled Grillo out as a leading figure, writing: "His painting acknowledges no allegiance to tradition, exists in a moment of intensity of explosive abstraction." The same year Grillo arrived in New York he had his first one-man show at the Artist's Gallery. He was also selected for the signal show, "15 Unknowns" at the Kootz Gallery in 1950. He worked for over six decades as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, and art instructor, and is remembered, as critic Donald Kuspit notes, as "the leading master of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists."
"Why do I use yellow? For one thing I feel the canvas expands-there is somehow more light and atmosphere, at least for me now, in the use of yellow…Now I feel that my work…is a growth and a digestion of many visual experiences, and I'm still working for that 'great style' which will be an embodiment of my own personality in relationship with our world and our times..."
—John Grillo, Scrap Magazine No.6, April 19, 1961
Untitled, 1966 is a quintessential example of Grillo's vibrant light-filled Abstract Expressionist canvases from the 1960's. Having returned to the West Coast to teach for a time at the University of California at Berkeley, Grillo began to paint canvases of expansive color fields that featured lustrous areas of bright yellows and reds.These landscape works, pure sensations of nature, are less abstract than they are reminiscent of the Impressionists' concentration on light and their accompanying atmospheric effects. Van Gogh referred to yellow as "the color of the spirit". Such bright superlative works provide an unmitigated banquet of visual pleasure that radiate sunshine and exude a sensuality that invites comparisons to the British Romantic landscape painter J.M.W. Turner with their similar effects of luminosity. Untitled, 1966 is if nothing else a gorgeous and luminous painterly canvas carefully crafted with abstract geometric areas of brilliant color that resonates with a pure and intense sensibility. Light was Grillo's credo. Bursts of the primary colors of yellow and red exude a joy that stands in stark contrast to the somber Abstract Expressionist pictures of the 1950's. A new era was born with these heavily impastoed areas of brilliant color applied liberally with the palette knife to a large grid format to create these lush sensual canvases awash with energy. Such canvases as our Untitled 1966 are critically important as they resonate with a density and intensity that was reflective of the modern times, capturing as Grillo once remarked his "own personality in relationship with our world and our times".