Renato Guttuso '55
John Russell
Mario de Micheli
Renato Guttuso '85
Enrico Crispolti
Silvia Rosselli
Lynda Hillyer
Antonello Trombadori


Presentation of exhibition at the Galleria San Marco
Rome, May 1955

John Grome has lived in Rome since 1947. He arrived one day without money and wanted to stay. he wanted to stay at all costs and existed on sacrifices of every kind doing the most absurd things, working now at the airport, now at the radio, and dedicating every fragment of spare time to his painting.

His love for painting is confused with his love for Italy. For him Italy and painting mean the same thing. From this loving conviction comes a painting of maximum timbre, warm and luminous , that from time to time takes on shapes of children or landscapes but that is in essence the Italian light and soil!

To this light and this soil he links himself, his wife, his children: he links personalities and events of the everyday life of the people. One must mention his colour, his manner of composition and his inventiveness. In this way one would see how his Irish nature comes out and how the violence of the colour and luminousity derive from an interpretation of visual emotion ( and of connected sentiments) more similar to, for example Matthew Smith than to our own colourists.

Finally I am an Italian friend of John Grome, whom I present to the Roman public and not a critic and I don't want to take their place. I only want to say what pleasure I get from his painterly qualities, that I find are so generous and impetuous that I dont in the least mind any excessive simplification and hurried drawing solutions. For me here is a born painter; obstinate and sensitive, honest and vital, and what is most important of all, linked to a real objective existing and moving world. And to enter into contact with this world John Grome does not seek intellectual mediation, but only follows his love for nature, for reality and for people.

May 1955
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Presentation of Catalogue of Exhibition ot the Opera Theatre Gallery
Parma 1964

Until very recently there was no such thing as an English painter of any consequence who was not nourished at some stage in his career by a sojourn in Italy. And even today, when immediate influences are more likely to come from the other side of the Atlantic, it happens as often as not that the experience of Italian art and Italian life turns up when we least expect it as a vital ingredient in the development of English artists.

Comparatively rare, in all this, is the English painter who actually settles in Italy and makes his career there. John Grome is begining, now, to make a firm reputation in his new country, but for years has identified himself completely with what is in effect, his second father land, Italian landscape, Italian architecture, Italian men and women: these are his subjects and without in any way imitating Guttuso and the other Italian painters who have become his friends, he has come to have what could be called an Italian accent in his painting . Whereas visiting English artists often pitch the note too high or too low, when faced with the unfamiliar Italian scene, John Grome seems to me to be absolutely in tune with it.
The natural vivacity of Italian life often comes out as strained and frantic in the work of an admiring visitor. Grome, once again, takes it "as to the manner born".

But with all this there are also characteristics in his work which seem to me distinctly and enduringly English. There is a capacity for reflection and analysis, for instance, which was always part of the English watercolour tradition; ability to think the scene through , rather than to be pushed around by the excitement of what nature puts in front of us . There is, too, a disinclination to overload. Grome knows how much to put into a picture and how much to leave out, and this is particularly true of a country like Italy, where nothing is insignificant and it is rare for there to be a dead or dull patch in the landscape.

So it seems to me that John Grome is one of those few people who have fufilled the "sogno anglo-italiano": he has at once penetrated deeply into Italian life and yet not abdicated from any part of his personality as an English painter. In wishing all possible success to his exhibition I must also congratulate the city of Parma on having invited someone who brings to his work the gifts not only of an honest craftsman but of a story teller and a poet.

JOHN RUSSELL Art critic for The Sunday Times
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Presentation of catalogue for the Galleria Angolare,
Milan March 1972

It is at once clear that Grome is a painter of symbols. He does'nt paint landscapes , nor still life, nor portraits. His paintings are dominated by the flight of seagulls, white seagulls flapping their wings in an irridescent sky where the sun changes in a play of circles; circles become pupils of human eyes, gulls assume anthropoid shapes hieratic female forms, faces with fixed intensity, enigmatic profiles. But what significance have these painting symbols recurring over and over again in his Italian canvasses?

Grome is a painter of inner life and the gull perhaps the most profound image that he carries inside himself since he was a child, from the far off days he passed on the Irish coast, has slowly been transformed into the most spontaneous and natural "vehicle" for his emotions, impulses, of his most secret and restless thoughts.
That is to say that in his paintings the seagull has become the almost exclusive symbol through which he communicates the complexity of his interior life.

Reading Zen some years ago influenced Grome in a way in which he was undoubtedly already inclined. What I mean is that he was persuaded into constant contemplative excercise, to a continual questioning of his own nature, on the happenings that become motives of concience.

Without doubt his painting is a result of such active contemplation, in which the flow of life filters to the point of sublimation of the symbol, to these white gulls infact, in which are collected multiple symbols of love and death, of nostalgia and hope.

Grome is a very solitary painter who carries on his research with obstinate fidelity to his own poetic convictions and refuses to let himself be disturbed by any tempting diversion of fashion. He knows the risks he is taking but takes them all the same. He has lived in Italy for more than twenty years. Here he has found a solution favourable to his work and here he has stayed. However his public appearances are rare. His last one-man show was seven years ago. So today he presents us with the result of long and insistant thought.

The seagulls of his paintings come from distant skies.

Mario De Micheli
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I have known John Grome for many years - up to a certain point I followed his work. Then life and work slowed down these contacts. Now today seeing these paintings I feel that I've never lost contact with John.

It is just as though I had followed his work year by year - the same capacity to enchant and make one dream as in those far off distant years.
But with what greater freedom ! What suggestiveness one finds in the eye of the old seagull, John Grome, in these years. It's the man who gave his beloved daughter the name of Allegra and who certainly inspired the giving the name of Diletta to his grandaughter, that same man who has just as certainly achieved substantial maturity in his enterprise.

In noting these points I believe I am not merely being anectotical, but making a critical contribution to the comprehension of his work, to understanding his consistency, his optimism, his sense of life and art and his capacity to transform his own private and daily life into fantasy.

Affection becomes dream and gaiety and the old gull invents new games and will invent new ones. Games that will help us to grow old as he does.

RENATO GUTTUSO summer 1985
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Introduction to catalogue
Galleria La Gradiva, Rome November 1985
by Enrico Crispolti

John Grome is a London painter who has worked in Rome since 1947. He is one of many artists (European, North American, African, Asiatic ) who have chosen our country in which to live and work. These artists are not without difficulty admitted formally into the framework of today's Italian art world (although they find a warm friendship) but a bureaocratic distancing in official circles blurring the cultural image of the country. Everyone knows the exact opposite is true in Paris, where the foreigner , when resident, is immediately integrated and becomes culturally Parisian in every way.

Some years ago the Roman Quadriennial finally recognised this problem but its imagination took it no further than that of creating a separate show devoted to "foreigners". It remains to be seen what will happen at the next Quadriennial - Salon now being discussed. It is true however, in a situation existentially less dispersive and isolating, compared with Paris, Rome has not taken proper advantage, in dealing with with the comparative cultural situation, nor with the numerous foreigners resident here for years, nor the numerous artists who come seasonally, (some of very high quality, the young and the not so young, often famous artists) enlivening the many academies and foreign schools.

Many remember the presence of John Grome in Rome from the end of the forties and in the fifties among those who gravitated to the Guttuso circle at Villa Massimo in particular. Right from that time, however, Grome worked rather on his own, showing himself rarely to the public. Now it is thirteen years since he had a show and twentytwo since his work was seen in Rome. From one aspect this show is like a retrospective, but it also, above all, fully documents all his latest work in Rome, (as well as work done in London).

It is indispensable to trace carefully all the various phases of his research, which in his first years in Rome began with being essentially interested in popular themes seen in a realistic way, even if at moments passing through post-cubic synthesis, in an original form; finally to establish himself in the sixties and seventies. Today he shows his personalised dimension of figurative synthesis, (in terms of evocative lyricism) in an always increasingly motivated symbolic image.

First however, it is necessary to gather together the recurring characteristics of his pictoric imaginings. From this it is clear that, first and foremost, he is a painter of imagination, and, within this sphere of tension , to narrative synthesis,. Initially fascianted by the vivacity of the multiple aspects of everyday Italian life, he did not degrade them descriptively but dealt with them ironically, to the point of flaking off the realistic image with a fantastic movement as in his figures of priests, nuns and in the dancing movements of the street cleaners.

But he is also an imaginative painter for, having chosen the dimension of the fantastic prospective in his approach to reality, even the most sensitive pieces undergoing this stimulant (as in the flowers and lanscapes). He creates something vital in a climate that is altogether evocative of allusive possibility and the insinuation of psychological comparisons.

Infact his imagination substantially tends to become symbolic pendencies in the figurative image. Mario de Micheli had already noted this in 1972, speaking of a "painter of Symbols" and specifying a symbolic and key figure in recent paintings: the seagull. At a certain point there is an anthropomorphous gull. In any case a figure belonging to the memory coming from a period of his youth on the Irish coast.

In effect every image of Grome's paintings is symbolic rather than descriptive, even when the narrative becomes more or less over-ruled by abstraction (at the begining of the seventies) and when the development becomes fully narrative as in the most recent years.

In Grome's paintings each figure must be taken into account for its reference capacity and the evocative strength it assumes (from the gull to the figures always more connected to the family circle).
If it is true, as Guttuso noted in those far off days of 1955 concerning more realistic work, that Grome's work does not "seek intellectualistic mediation" and it is, therefore, clear that it lives entirely on evocative mediation, that is to say on psychological valency.

In this sense one can very well recognise the typical English roots of his work. A root spontaneously preserved and adhered to beyond the frequency almost totally Italian during most of his painting life. In 1964 John Russell individualised an English characteristic in Grome's work "in his capacity for reflection and analysis". I would say the same today of this reflection as the psychological resonance of every suggestion of reality and and analysis especially in the sentiment, not of analytic attention brought to the surface but of a self-analysis which, however, immediately bursts into colour.

From this, in fact , we come to the interior aspect, totally evocative and therefore the attribution of psychological significance in every formal component of Grome's paintings. It is an internal discourse however, not as in a diary, not as a loss of memory in the individual labyrinths of personal unconcious, but as a reconnection to his own world of reality all defined within the active dimension of the memory, of every aspect, scene, encounter and everyday emotion. And it is here that one must begin, in the daily domestic life, that most naturally full of memories, and which for Grome remain essential.

In this sense it seems to me that Grome constructs in his work the personalities of a dialogue of memory, of a sort of dilation of present time lived in a whole patrimony of experience of the past. In his imaginative evocation, he constructs painting fantasies of reality, that become his daily reality and sum up in their symbolic load the life story of the effects, emotions, and of stratified and mixed sensations.

This filter of memory is not so much out of focus as true and actual. In an imaginary life, painting is the most authentic form of existence. Painting, such as Grome's that warms in contact with life, and life's narrative ( above all the most intimate) not however to make news, nor family chronicle, but to give it a measure of more profound value, and in time, of a more intimate, authentic, profound and individualistic reality (which is first and foremost) with a capacity of emblematic collectivity. ( This is clear for example, in the recent four paintings - as old in time , I would say as the Romanesque figures on the cathedrals and yet all inspired by new reality and childhood memory; the Seasons).
Of this painting, colour is the chief protagonist, the means used that defines and determines the strong climate of the image. In 1955 Guttuso spoke of Grome as of painting "keyed to the maximum, passionate, warm, and luminous" of the "violence of the colour" and again of the "luminosity".

In the course of the years that violence has toned down and refined , reaching an extreme refinement of graduating colours on a range of "dominant" notes, if not monochromatic. But in more recent years he has raised his colour tones again with an exalted purity in the "timbres" to reach a new force which is determined by the symbolic suggestiveness of the presence of images and their evident psychological force. A vivid colour, constant, open, extensive background, interiorly, not atmospherically, sunny, but not naturalistic infact, but to repeat, symbolic; that it lights-up images and that the atmospheric setting in a kind of re-proposition of certain (that is to say symbolical)

I believe that these are the most obvious characteristics that are to be found down the years on Grome's canvases, in a personal and certainly more than ever solitary adventure. A solitude not diminishing in value but creating the best condition for that reflection to which his work intimately aspires.

Enrico Crispolti 1985
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We first met, by chance, working at the same strange Anglo-Italian press agency, editing general news articles. Soon, I also met his wife and their very young daughter. My first impression of them was that they were an unusual family. He was an expansive and very friendly man. He was open to people, therefore I immediately cultivated their friendship and sought their company . I went to visit them at their residence, at that time they lived in a small annex to a villa on the Appia Antica. The house was tiny but enchanting.
I soon came to realize that painting was at the core of all that mattered to this man.
The work he did at the agency, and the various other jobs he took subsequently, were merely a means to support his family. Deep in his heart this man was a painter, and painting was the reason for his existence.

From that little house on the Appia Antica, they moved to several different places, and I followed their movements with interest and a certain participation; the places they chose were always beautiful and invariably had a special quality about them. Their second home was a small farmhouse in the middle of the vineyards in Zagarolo. In reality it was more like a barn, with a floor made from compressed earth. There was no water, nor electricity. It was a marvelous place in the summer, but the winters were tough. One year it snowed.
Every day, scrupulously, John would walk to the station to take the train to Rome, where he hosted an English language radio program for the RAI. His determination was laudable. His wife Mave's ability to sustain all this was admirable; she never complained, not once. She was always calm and smiling. They lifted their spirits with a little of the local wine, the atmosphere was always jovial. I often visited them with my children on Sundays. Even in the winter we were able to sit and eat outside at a table, sheltered by a wall, exposed to the midday sun.
The atmosphere was never heavy or despondent. It was a lifestyle of their choosing.

In this basic house there was always a gracious touch to be seen, mostly due to Mave, whose household chores and care of three children didn't stop her from creating a "still life" from an old broken teapot and some flowers gathered from the field. In those times John created some of his most beautiful water colours, illustrating the Mediterrenean landscape and light.

He made friends with Italian painters, Guttuso, Corrado Cagli, Carlo Levi, Sergio Donnini amongst others. And then there were his friends and clients, who believed in him and loved his work. Often John gave his paintings in exchange for professional services rendered him, a common practice with artists. Unfortunately, what he lacked was a gallery owner, a merchant who appreciated him as an artist, someone to manage his public relations. Truth being that John never allowed himself to be conditioned by commercial interests.

After a year, the vineyard owners wanted their house back, the family found an apartment near Anzio; the house newly built and somewhat non-descript, but a stone's throw away from rocks that led down to a sandy beach where the children played.

My thoughts on how to categorize his style of painting after knowing him for fifty years lead me to believe that John never limited himself to one particular genre. Sometimes he would explore in depth a particular subject, like the seagulls that inspired him to study their flying skeletons in great detail by visiting at length the Museum of Natural History near the Zoo.

In 1965, they decided to move to England to provide a better education for their children.
Regardless of the stimulation John enjoyed from contact with other London artists and his and Mave's improved working conditions, soon John began to miss the radiance of the Roman sunlight. After only three and a half years he pioneered his return to Rome, bringing with him his daughter Allegra, joined soon after by the rest of the family.

I own many of John's works that were donated to me throughout the long years of our friendship. They are oils, watercolours, drawings, collages and so forth. When a guest visits my house for the first time, they often ask "who is that artist ?" . I have noticed that everyone has their favourite picture. It could be the large mixed media collage on the theme of Talamone, or the oil painting "A Sunday Morning Walk " that he painted on the Appia Antica, or the large still life drawing of flowers and paintbrushes, or that oil painting of a seagull with a blue sky background. They never fail to catch people's attention.
In the 1980's John produced a large series of paintings, based on a chimerical theme, his granddaughter Diletta is the subject. More recently he created a painting that I greatly admire, but do not own. It is hanging on John's wall. The subject is an oil study of the Pantheon's interior. Before he started the painting he wanted to visit the monument, then with the aid of a black and white print of the interior of the Pantheon, he created a work that is a feast of colour and light.
Despite his age and an increased fatigue, John continues to paint and create his world.

Silvia Rosselli 2002
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Lynda Hillyer

I have known John Grome for nearly thirty years. He is now in his nineties and is still producing work of vigour and energy. His paintings have always been characterised by an extraordinary combination of boldness and poetry and a joyful celebration of movement. He embraces colour and form in a fearless whole-hearted way using large masterly brush strokes. He paints both figurative paintings and landscapes but much of his work is symbolic expressing deeply felt emotions. A recurrent theme is the seagull, soaring into freedom or children dancing in numerous patterns. His paintings of his wife Mave are full of tenderness and poignancy; his delight in women is evident both from the many portraits of his daughter and granddaughter and the paintings of friends surrounded by their favourite flowers. My chief memory of John throughout so many years is his enormous appetite for life. Even now, as a very old man, his work reveals an inspiring life force. It was this energy which prompted me to buy two of his recent paintings. They both depict the same arrangement of tulips. In one, the tulips are in full bloom, a heady mixture of pinks and oranges, bursting with life and colour. In the other the same flowers, almost at the end of their life, fall in an abstract arrangement of stems, stamens and misshapen leaves; what was once rounded and flowing is now spare and angular. Yet within this arrangement of failing flowers there is still a powerful, creative and vibrant energy. This is the essence of John Grome's work; it is also the essence of the man that I have been privileged to know for so many years.

Lynda Hillyer
January 2003

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Antonello Trombadori

The first manifest recognition of John Grome's talent is due to Renato Guttuso, who introduced a personal show for John in Rome in 1955.

John Grome, born in London in 1911, arrived in Italy in 1947. For almost ten years he worked alone, having to take on a wide variety of professions in order to maintain an absolutely untainted dedication to his research and development as an artist.

His self imposed detachment from the world could have been mistaken for a lack of self esteem with regards to his vocation, or as a residue of an amateurish attitude towards the discipline of a painter. In truth, it was neither. Since his show in 1955 John Patrick Grome has revealed that the severe and rigorously autocratic means he used to face the problems of modern art, stem profoundly from within his spirit. If this was the consequence of an innate modesty, it goes to prove that John Grome belongs to those kind of researchers of the truth for whom every success is the result of the arduous journey between doubt and certainty, and again from certainty to doubt.

His choice of Italy as the ideal place to substantiate his creative will was neither casual nor vaguely sentimental. This choice presented itself as a consequence of his youthful development at Goldsmiths College of Art under the tutelage of Clive Gardiner, whose subtle literacy of the impressionist and post-impressionist heritage influenced the strength and originality of painters like Graham Sutherland.
This choice was made at an essential moment of his growth, wherein Grome pushed himself to engage with the developmental process of the modern figurative vocabulary, (actually, the modern figurative revolution !) which was distinctly different from what was fashionable. This also allowed for Grome's need for eschewal and to break with the establishment; like every free spirited Irishman, a complete re-assessment of the human mandate.

Driven by such compulsions, for John Grome Italy provided the haven that he certainly would not have found in post war Paris, for instance. Reason being that the modern Italian figurative movement provided all the intellectual sustenance he needed without the extorts of a forced academic deformation of his intimate sensibilities.

In 1955 Renato Guttuso quickly deliberated a legacy between Grome's painting with that of Matthew Smith, specifically in virtue of the internal accession of colour, as if it had benefited from a lesson from Mafai, or Guttuso himself; wrought with long and peregrine shadows, the light pale and cold, almost a Nordic aurora. In addition to Grome's legacy with Matthew Smith we could include the great Yeats, brought to us by the Venice Biennale for two years or so; a master whose indirect teachings and paternal custodianship grew from a spontaneous affinity, from whom a part of Grome's inspiration is drawn. Grome's subjects, while simultaneously descriptive and mythical, are stupefied and melancholic from his naturalism, better yet, by his love for nature.

Another decade has passed. John Patrick Grome returns, bringing to the public the results of a new deep exploration. The images are those of a newly found freedom; his colours are no longer subject to the constraint of the drawing. Any suggestion of the possibility of integrating fantasy with objectivity is gone. The nucleus of his inspiration is visible in it's full radiance. Now, the rapid narratives of rural and urban pursuits, while apparently blithe, belie an apprehensive and unsettling reality to which Grome invites us to participate in, rather that to assist.

Be it a flower, an animal, an escaping crowd or a gentle indulgence of a loved ones face; or be it an ironical interrogation of an anonymous character, whether it is on canvas or paper, masterfully watercoloured, in John Patrick Grome's work there exists a duality; a pungent recall from memory, at once with an almost photographic collision with present reality.

While such a duality corresponds to a will, or even a necessity to represent the laceration of our existence, this is not what is achieved from the style that John Grome has accomplished. This style has already accounted for such dichotomies, and continues to explore, through the tendencies of the modern figurative revolution, delving through the dramas that divide the unity of modern humanity, (this very premise, both human and intellectual, is at the core of their deepest poetic substance ) presuming to contribute to the reconstruction of a new humanity.

Antonello Trombadori
(introduction to the catalogue for La Galleria Montenapoleone, Milan, 1964)

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