Wednesday, June 1, 2011

David Grove, Hall of Fame Illustrator

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.

June, 2007
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 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, 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 is scrumptous,’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.


  1. Incredible story about the SWAT team! And thanks for sharing all the samples. David Grove's work is a huge inspiration. Always tasteful and surprising. I love the way he lets the colors bleed in and out of the forms.

  2. I've always loved that poster for SWTWC! I really admire the way he builds forms, and his nuanced use of solarization... simply beautiful work...

  3. "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."

    Best news Ive heard all day! A David Grove book is so long over due. I cant wait for this! Is David still actively illustrating? More fine art now? I see things pop up every now and then by him but not a ton. Just curious what he's doing now.

    I certainly see where you learned about overlapping almost to the point of being uncomfortable Greg. His montages are awesome. Love that double page spread!

  4. So when is his book coming out?

  5. When I was in my early teens, I picked up a paperback novel at the drugstore. It was Sabatini's "Captain Blood". At the time I had no knowledge of the novel's history - I picked it up because of the incredible illustration on the cover. I've since lost the book to time and many moves, but seeing Grove's work here, I am struck by the similarity in style between the "Coffin Full of Dreams" cover, fly-leaf and what I recall of the Captain Blood artwork. I wonder if that was one of Grove's pieces.

    I think that illustration alone got me started in the art field - I so wanted to do stuff like that.

  6. Two of my all time favorite illustrations are both for "Something Wicked This Way Comes". The movie poster by David Grove and the Spectrum 10 call for entries poster by . . . wait for it . . .

    Greg Manchess

    Talk about overlapping stuff! I still don't think I've found every face in that amazing picture.

  7. I loved this speech back when Irene posted it on her blog a while ago, and it's still a lot of fun to read through today. Great narrative for great artist that I really need to learn more about. I'll look forward to that book, and thanks for sharing all of the beautiful images.

    And man, the one of the girl's face! WOW! Words won't do, so I'll end this post.

  8. I had the pleasure of meeting David and hearing this SWAT story firsthand as a a grad student at Hartford a couple of years back. His deadpan delivery had us all in stitches.

    I have been mesmerized by David's work since my teens when I first saw his "Never Cry Wolf" and Something Wicked This Way Comes" movie posters. I didn't even know who the artist was then, but I loved the art (better than both the movies by the way). This book will be at the top of my wish list when it hits.

  9. I've been very fortunate to get to know David Grove when I was studying in San Francisco. David or "Mr.Grove" as I called him taught me more about painting from the 2 hours every couple of months we would spend together than most of my teachers ( who were phenomenal in their own right) He is a brilliant,kindhearted man, who was never afraid to say what he really felt. In short he is a king and I think he deserves to be put right up there with great such as Fuchs,English,Phillips, Weaver, anybody.

  10. So, how exactly does he build up his works? An acrylic basic and the gouache/watercolor on top ? I cant tell...
    If you could write me a mail, that would be great:

  11. Captain Blood was a cover done by David Grove. Great Article Greg! Thanks for letting us all know about this Legendary Illustrator!

  12. I've liked David Grove's work from the first time I
    saw it, in the seventies I believe it was. Great
    drawing, composition & design abilities! His technique his reminiscent of Bernie's but using Gouache instead of oil. Gouache can be unpainted, very much like oil on canvas.

  13. I have in collection an original David Grove painting of Steeler 58... Is there a market for his work? (which i love)

  14. I went to the Academy of Art College (now University) in San Francisco and these paintings were images etched in our memories. Wonderful, beautiful work. As students, of course each of us had a little period of "David Groveism." Thanks for posting this and bringing back Grove's amazing work.

  15. I am very sorry to have to break some really bad news. David Grove passed away last night, October 25, 2012, after a long illness. I don't know much more than that at the moment except that some of his friends are taking care of the arrangements.

    I have known David for almost 30 years. My wife was a student of his at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and in the past years we have spent many New years Eve celebrations at his house. For us it was a yearly tradition of sorts.

    My wife spoke to David last week and we knew he didn't have long to go. Amazingly, up to the very end he was involved in a myriad of projects. We believe that these projects he has been involved with is what had kept him alive almost two and a half years past the doctor's prognosis.

    Again, I don't have any more news at the moment but replying to this thread will probably notify me and if anyone has any questions I will try to answer them.

    David will be missed. He was an exceptionally talented person and a great friend.

    1. Thanks for the news, Marco.

    2. That is sad news indeed. David Grove was on of the very, very best. Stunning work, all of it still as fresh and powerful as the day it was painted.

  16. Alain André MoreauFebruary 19, 2013 at 8:08 PM

    I'm sad to take note of D. Grove's death. A year to the day I posted my comment (October 25, 2011 at 2:07 PM). I remember the start of his career, a very talented
    artist and brilliant Illustrator. He will be miss by all who have admired his work.

    Alain A. Moreau

  17. Drew Struzan will never admit it, but he has fiercely and unabashedly copied David Grove's style. You can see it in many of his works, and you can throw in some Leyendecker, and Maxfield Parrish to. But Struzan's got nothing on David Grove! David's work is both original and powerful! He's the original master illustrator!


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