Portrait of an Artist

Also from Issue 88

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Walsh says Grove liked rolling up his sleeves and diving into some pretty big jobs, like replacing the ’53’s head gasket. But Grove also just liked hanging out in his garage with friends. “A lot of the time we would just talk cars,” says Walsh.

Grove was a night owl. He ate dinner late, often closing down one of his favorite North Beach restaurants, like Vanessi’s. But then it was back to his home studio, where he would routinely work until dawn. “When he was working, he was working,” says Alexander of Grove’s intense focus. He sketched and painted alone, the late-night hours preventing him from being interrupted. Before picking up pen or paintbrush, however, Grove used his camera. He went to elaborate lengths to stage his proposed illustrations, using his friends as models and creating meticulously crafted props, then photographing them.

Of Grove’s technique, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “His absolute and unwavering attention to detail, authenticity and accuracy—combined with his unique fluid painting style—led to a client list that expanded to include not only every major publisher, but also advertising clients….”

In 2007, Grove was admitted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame and recognized for a career overflowing with achievement. He created movie posters for Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Outsider” and an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes; and paperback book covers for John LeCarre’s Little Drummer Girl and Call for the Dead, as well as reprint paperback covers of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans. From 1975 to 1990, Grove produced catalog artwork for Pendleton Woolen Mills. Other commercial clients including the National Football League, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Grove created the program cover and poster for the ’83 and ’95 Indy 500s), Mercedes-Benz and Campbell-Ewald, for whom he created the cover of the 1988 Corvette brochure.

Eventually, Grove’s cigarette habit caught up to him in the form of emphysema. As his condition deteriorated and he lost strength, driving the ’64, with its unassisted steering and brakes, as well as its heavy clutch, became too much of a chore. Instead of buying a Honda Accord, Grove bought a ’69 Corvette. In addition to being easier to drive, thanks to its automatic transmission and power steering and brakes, the C3 was stylish enough to pass muster with Grove. As Alexander says, “David could not be seen in an uncool car.” The ’69 served as Grove’s go-to machine during the last few years of his life, including trips across the Golden Gate bridge to visit friends in the North Bay.

Grove strove to keep the ’53 as original as possible, choosing to repair instead of replace whenever possible. He kept the car clean but had no interest in detailing it into a concours sheen. The paint is apparently original. As for the Corvette’s damaged left rear fender, Grove was to blame; he accidently drove the ’69 into the ’53 in the tight confines of his garage a few months before he died. According to Alexander, this unfortunate incident pained Grove greatly.

He might not have been your average Corvette owner, but Grove’s reasons for owning them were far from unusual. “He enjoyed life, and the Corvettes were part of that,” says Alexander. In the end, though, “It was all about the design; he just loved the lines of the cars.” The ’53 was clearly the jewel of Grove’s Corvette collection, but he did not treat it like an art object—something to which its 83,000-mile odometer readout attests. Though he had kept it in storage for many long years, he had apparently never come close to selling it. The roadster had no doubt become an old companion that connected him to his youth—to the kid drawing cars in class, to the college student impressing his dates, to an American in Paris returning home.

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