Unspooling across portraits like spilled paint, the white jasmine paintings of Grillo Demo remain years since their first unveiling, a sight to behold. But the Argentinian artist, resident in Ibiza since the 70s, is—unlike his naturalistic and surrealist paintings—something of a blank canvas. Despite Grillo’s reputation as the high priest of South American surrealism, he doesn’t often do press—his candy-coloured vases and technicolour tapestries speak volumes. But, this Semaine, in a special collaboration with Desmond & Dempsey, Grillo invites us into his world—speaking about art, its limits, and the man behind the myths.
“Art’s not about recycling, it’s about a desire to bring back to life beautiful, forgotten things”, Grillo said, whose Villa Favorita sits nestled among the bougainvillea, terracotta walls, and stretched blue of Ibiza. Grillo first moved to Ibiza in 1978, abandoning architecture and Argentina for the bohemian flow of the island (not to mention its almond trees, riots of flowers, and that golden light). Less party locale than a beacon for creative types, the twin worlds of art and fashion have since come to Grillo, rather than the other way around. Whether it’s his works hanging in the homes of Kate Moss, Madonna, and Elle Macpherson, or his portrait of Carine Roitfeld, patrons and fans alike entrust Grillo to offer a taste of his twin worlds of Argentina and Ibiza. An unabashed blend of styles and palettes keeps Grillo in vogue: “My style leaps from painting to furniture design to photography to collage”.
Beyond the beauty of his Villa Favorita, now a site of pilgrimage for the beatniks and creative tribes loyal to the island, Grillo’s dandyish clothes and studies of jasmine flowers make him unique. So too is his interview style, handing back quotes for this piece in a neat cursive, each on tea-coloured parchment. On Instagram, he is that rare artist to cultivate photos with the same beauty as his portraits—cascading oleanders, full moons the colour of strawberry—all revealing slight hints about his art and creative process: “More or less my creative process comes out of the chaos I’m surrounded by… and by a daily vision of the falling jasmine every time I have a look into my garden”. A tinge of blasphemy too touches all of Grillo’s works, intervening with an affectionate glee onto portraits of virgins and martyrs: “To add another layer of paint can give a new patina to the world”.
From his corner of an island in the Mediterranean, Grillo makes art without borders or limits. In a Grillo portrait, stately maharajas become vessels of colour and life; religious paragons bloom with the pearly touch of a jasmine. Neither blasphemous nor bad-taste, neither parody nor portrait, Grillo Demo lives, and works, in a world of his own.
By Jonathan Mahon-Heap for Semaine.