As the creator of classically painted allegorical images, John Grow has few equals.
A Durango resident since 1979, by way of Evanston, Ill., his work has won eight Best of Show awards and invariably garners the highest praise at the Durango Arts Center exhibits.
While he has no gallery representation here, which is more a mystery than a statement about his art, he does have two paintings for sale at the Sacred Blanket next to the Gaslight Theatre. Grow has had showings in several galleries in Colorado, as well as in California, New Mexico and Arizona,.He currently is in a gallery in Baltimore.
A gentle man as much as a gentleman, John's insight and knowledge, whether depicted on canvas or in conversation, can startle a listener or viewer. Talking to Grow is like studying one of his metaphor laden oils: inch by inch the details present themselves; subtleties and nuances emerge in conversation as it does in his art. Both reveal great depth, introspection and a bit of whimsy, perhaps even some sarcasm or self-deprecation mixed in along with the dammar varnish.
The titles of his work seem personal, but like a word puzzle, they can suggest a path to interpretation. The art is so detailed in places that it evokes awe and wonder: The faces of the young women are fresh and lovely with a hint of some secret knowledge. His symbolic themes tell a story, but their meaning might be obscure, with only a nod and a wink alluding to the real subject.
Delving into his background is akin to peeling away the layers of an onion. In high school, he won an award for an animated film he wrote and illustrated. He was a National Merit Scholarship finalist and later a Phi Beta Kappa at Northwestern, a not-so-typical occurrence for an art major.
He worked as an advertising artist in Chicago and eventually moved west to teach high school art in Las Animas. While there, he took time off to search for a place he really wanted to live, ultimately finding Durango, where he set up his studio and began a new life.
John's early subject matter was the region's breathtaking landscapes, the narrow gauge railroad and contemporary small-town life, sometimes including himself in the scene like a would-be Alfred Hitchcock. He was sought after to paint archaeological reconstructions in Aztec and also Chaco dwellings that were used in a segment on the History Channel.
Having mastered those genres he pursued more cerebral subjects, delving into depictions of dinosaurs in fantasy settings, “a favorite of adults and children,” he says.
The last couple of years, Grow has been creating symbolically whimsical paintings of people and environments that are deeply insightful and dreamlike. Yet the most arresting elements of his work – that grabs viewers by the lapels and shakes their platitudes – are his technical facility and the photographic exactitude of his brushwork. His is a talent so exquisite that Grow makes the implausible believable.
Stew Mosberg is a freelance writer and has written about art regionally and nationally. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.