Abstract expressionist painter, printmaker, sculptor and teacher, John Grillo was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He began his education in fine art at the the Hartford School of Fine Arts, from which he graduated in 1938. In 1944, he joined the Navy and served in Okinawa during World War II. After his discharge in 1946, he used money from the G.I. Bill to continue his studies in San Francisco at the California Institute of the Arts where he was influenced by some of the abstract movement's leading painters, especially Richard Diebenkorn. Though Grillo stayed in California for just two years before moving to New York in 1948, he is identified as an important figure in the Californian Abstract Expressionist movement. Later, in New York and Provincetown, he would study with Hans Hoffman. He eventually taught at various schools, including Southern Illinois University, University of California at Berkeley, New School for Social Research, Iowa University, and Pratt Institute, before accepting the position of Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
His honors have included a Ford Foundation Grant for Work in Lithography followed by a Ford Foundation Appointment as Artist in Residence at the Butler Institute and two research grants from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Grillo has exhibited extensively and is well represented in numerous museum and corporate collections.