David Grove has been a long-time friend, and long-time influence on my work. If you don’t know his paintings, start your search today, as he is one of the preeminent American illustrators. His work is at once loose and controlled, depicting the right amount of information to tell a story or capture an interesting moment, whether it’s the play of light on a subject, or the way that subject happens to move. His original paintings are truly something to sit and stare at.
A few years ago he was inducted in the Society’s Hall of Fame, and I got the chance to introduce him. It was a great honor. My induction speech is included below. You’ll likely see more from David as I talk about him from time to time, and about a new book about his work that is soon to be published.
One could describe my friend David Grove as a reluctant illustrator….but a focused one.
You’d never know it from looking at the work, of course. There’s nothing reluctant about any of it…the passages of color, sweeping strokes and soft-sharp edges blending in and out with such control….no one goes into this kind of focus with reservation.
I’ve always gotten the sense that David was a bit of a maverick. Born to parents who were both artists, David decided that he would be a chemical engineer. He won a scholarship to Syracuse from a drawing competition.
But after being there awhile he changed his major to photography. He liked the technical side of things. After college he made enough money in a photography studio to indulge his wanderlust and fled to Europe.
Living in Paris, he lived the cafe lifestyle over there and made some money playing jazz piano. After a time, money running low, he was hired to do some pencil drawings for a Macy’s-style shop in France. He lived on the money he made from that one job for 3 months. Living an exotic European lifestyle.
He was later convinced to come to England to work at a studio, Artists Partners. This only lasted for a year….he might have remained in England but for the toxic nature of English food. He just could not take one more fish and chips. After all, he was getting older, he was 29….that stuff can kill a man.
He came back to the US and after seeing more of the great works of all the great illustrators living in Westport….he promptly fled to California. Where he found a bit of the Parisian cafe life in San Francisco.
At this point, David was doing all sorts of work for advertisers and publishers. I remember one distinct cover of a book he did about some rebels. The title, A Coffin Full of Dreams, is not as vivid as the image. Four figures in a mean-spirited pose, weapons in hand, one figure was a nun. The nun has nothing to do with the story I’m about to tell…but I’ve never forgotten that cover. (Maybe he can tell us about the nun later.)
David needed guns for this pose and instead of buying them, his technical side had the bright idea to build them. All he needed was the shapes and light on them to draw convincing weapons. But spray painting them in his apt would never do….so, like any sane man, he took them to the roof of the building.
Now, in those days, the SF Police were rather sensitive to rooftop snipers. But David had a deadline….and his focus was on the work. As he was spray painting a few of the fake guns on the roof, he heard the distinct crackle of a police radio, that seemed awfully close. Maybe down in the street. He kept on spray painting. But he soon had an odd sensation of being watched.
He held up the cardboard gun to check out how the sun was glinting off the steel grey cardboard barrel he was spraying, and as he turned to step back for a better look he noticed the door to the roof, and watched, bewildered, as a huge barrel of a gun slid slowly out of a small window by the door and was pointing directly at David.
Moments later he recalls being set upon by rather large members of SWAT, being thrown down and angrily frisked while all sorts of screaming ensued about how he should not try anything like ‘moving.’
With many frenetic silver-tongue reasons, he finally convinced them that the guns weren’t real. One SWAT member went over and picked up the toilet paper roll, cigarette pack, taped weapon and confirmed it.
He was led down to his apt where he showed them what he was doing, and while still explaining this in the stairway, as the police were headed out the front door, he happened to notice that his entire block had been cordoned off and a large crowd of people had gathered to watch the SWAT guys shoot the ‘sniper.’
This doesn’t say much about David’s actual painting, but more about his focus. He has a dead serious, laser-guided desire to wrangle a piece of painting into the most lovingly crafted flow of beauty.
So much so, that one time David was rubbing away at his painting, in the days when he used acrylics and inks instead of the guache and acrylics he would later use, to get a nice wash of color just perfect for a portrait head that he was doing for TIME magazine……when suddenly he realized he had rubbed completely through the illustration board he was painting on.
This is focus. This is David’s focus.
When I look at his work, I hear it as well as feel it. His washes and color become lyrical in a musical sense. His work is Beethoven strong….Mozart playful….and Paganini driven. And the light….oh….it is scrumptous, edible…it’s not the way the light falls on an object that he paints, but the light the painting generates within itself. It’s as if you could look at a Grove in the dark and still see it by it’s own light.
I first met him when I was a student. We got along immediately. I loved his passion about illustrating and getting it right. He was the first real professional illustrator I’d ever met. And when I & a friend brought our portfolios over to his apt one day, I realized that this was the lifestyle I wanted to have as an illustrator myself. He was an American Illustrator with a European lifestyle.
He said goodbye to us that day, wished us luck and said, “just remember…when you get out of school and into the field, I’ll be your competition.”
Again, David’s focus.