Portrait of an Artist

Also from Issue 88

Buy Corvette-magazine-88-cover
Portrait of an Artist 1
Portrait of an Artist 2
Portrait of an Artist 3
Portrait of an Artist 4
Portrait of an Artist 5
Portrait of an Artist 6
Portrait of an Artist 7
Portrait of an Artist 8
Portrait of an Artist 9
Portrait of an Artist 10
Portrait of an Artist 11
Portrait of an Artist 12

One of them, Rod Calvert, gave Grove a break, but he wasn’t interested in his photos; it was the couple of illustrations in the American’s portfolio that intrigued him. Within three days of this meeting, Calvert got Grove an assignment to create a black-and-white newspaper advertisement for a French department store. The only catch was that he had just 24 hours to finish it. Grove met the deadline, and not only did the ad run in print, it ended up being used on a billboard, as well. “I was dumfounded,” wrote Grove. “In one terrible day and night I had earned enough for three months.”

With the illustration assignments continuing to roll in, Grove bought himself a 1965 Triumph TR4A sports car and enjoyed life to the fullest for a few years, reveling in his Parisian world but traveling often. When his agent suddenly disappeared in 1967, however, the jig was up, and Grove told himself: “Time to go home.” He did so in a rather circuitous manner, though, spending a year and a half working in London.

Grove got a job at Artist Partners, where, much to his relief, the assignments were less commercial and he was allowed and encouraged to make illustrations that he considered more artistic and creative. While this aspect of the job suited him, the long hours didn’t. He had gone from working three to five days a month in Paris to grinding out 40 to 60 hours a week in London. On top of that, he found the city entirely lacking in good cheap food—something he had found in abundance in Paris. “My biggest problem was the total absence of a café scene,” he wrote. “Something about an outdoor café and the protocol that went with it just fit—perfectly. Discovering that way of living in Europe and especially Paris changed my life.”

In 1969, Grove finally made it back to the States, heading home to Drexel Hill. One of his first tasks was getting his ’53 Corvette back on the road. Considering it had been in storage for four years, this was no small task, but he soon had it running. Eric recalls his brother taking him on a memorable drive around Manhattan in the roadster. After a few months at home, Grove grew restless and decided to go west. “I thought now’s the time to see California and whatever lies between here and there,” he wrote. During his time in Europe, he had also acquired a number of contacts in California, so this trip was not simply another case of wanderlust.

Though the ’53 was in fine fettle, it was not the right vehicle for a cross-country drive; Grove wanted something he could sleep in, so he bought a ’62 Impala station wagon. Before he set off, there was the matter of where to store his Corvette. It went into another neighbor’s garage—a Mrs. Gazarra’s—because, wrote Grove, “Mrs. Hoover had had enough.” Little did Mrs. Gazarra know that the car would stay in her garage even longer.

Grove’s seven-week journey ended in Morro Bay, California. At that point, he let his address book decide which direction he should head—south or north. He started making calls to Los Angeles and got nowhere, so he pointed his Impala northward. Just outside of San Francisco, he stopped to make some calls. At first he got more “no longer in service” messages and “wrong number” replies, then he finally connected with a guy he had met in Paris, who let him crash on his sofa.

Relaunching his artistic career in San Francisco was no easy task for Grove. Unlike Manhattan, it didn’t have large design and production houses that required full-time illustrators, so he had to go the freelance route and the pickings were slim. He was nearly broke by the time he got some assignments from a small packaging firm, designing coffee-can labels and recipe inserts. That was all the toehold he needed, however. From there, he got a larger assignment to create 20 illustrations for a young-reader version of Treasure Island, and was off to the races.