Yusuf Grillo was born in 1934 in the Brazilian Quarters of Lagos. Grillo received his early education in Lagos. In 1955, he proceeded to the Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology, Zaria.
Grillo completed his Diploma course in Fine Art in 1960 and took an art education course that led to the award of post-graduate art education courses and education tour in Britain at the University of Cambridge. During this time, he was introduced to the use of polyester resin in sculpture in London.
Grilllo visited the College of Art and Printing in the United States in 1969. In 1972, he won the All African Competition in Painting held in London. In 1979, he visited the U.S.S.R. and studied Industrial Education in West Germany and Britain.
Grillo has exhibited in Africa, Europe, America and Australia. As an educator and administrator, he was the Head of the Department of Art and Printing at Yaba College of Technology. He has on occasions acted as Rector of the College. He also served as the Chairman of Lagos State Art Council (1978) as well as President of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA).
Grillo takes his subject matter from human activity in the world around him, particularly the Yoruba world. His paintings are distinguished by a refined and subtle use of colour and the mathematical structure of the picture surface. He created cool colour harmonies with a sensitive brush, avoiding stridency and discord. His use of blue and violet is reminiscent of stained glass. The generous folds of drapery of Yoruba dress become carefully balanced geometric shapes. Grillo’s treatment of the head sometimes makes direct reference to Africa mask forms. Many of his figures are stylized almost to the point of abstraction, yet they never lose their humanity.
* Published in the catalogue for the Zaria Art Society: Celebration of Legacies exhibition, 26 October-15 November 2019, Lagos, Nigeria. Extracted from “ The Zaria Art Society: A New Consciousness”. Published by National Gallery of Art Nigeria.