Artist Dossier Yusuf Grillo

Artist Dossier Yusuf Grillo

Born in 1934 in the Brazilian Quarter of Lagos, Yusuf Grillo is considered one of Nigeria’s most influential art figures. He is famed for the inventiveness of his work and for his preference for the colour blue, which features heavily in almost all of his paintings. His work is deeply influenced by traditional Yoruba philosophy and sculpture. As a member of the Zaria Arts Society, popularly known as the Zaria Rebels, Grillo combined his training in the Western representational style with a focus on Nigeria’s unique and rich artistic history. His preference for the colour blue is sometimes reminiscent of the adire (resist-dye textiles) used in Nigeria.

Raised in Lagos, Grillo received both a fine arts diploma and a postgraduate education diploma from the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology. In 1966, he moved to England to attend Cambridge University, after which he spent several years travelling around the USA and Germany. He eventually returned home, after which he was appointed as the head of Yaba College’s Department of Art and Printing. He retained this role for over 25 years, during which he continued to paint, exhibit, and serve as the president of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA).

The Flight, 1972, oil on board, 122 x 122cm. Photo credit:

Although Grillo was never a prolific painter, the quality of the work which he produced over the course of his career earned him a reputation as one of the most important artists in Nigeria. Somewhat a perfectionist, Grillo himself acknowledged that it often took him several months or, in some cases, even several years to complete a painting. Nevertheless, over the past few decades he has produced numerous pieces of art, including portraits, statues, and monuments.

Those who are familiar with his work may know that Grillo has expressed an aversion to photo-realism; rather than aiming for lifelike creations, he prefers to elongate and stylise the figures. This technique, which produces graceful and elegant human-like forms, makes his work instantly recognisable. His compositional decisions and choice of colour tones further aid such recognition.

Mother of Twins, 1970, oil on board, 117 x 60cm. Photo credit:

Grillo earned international recognition in the 1960s and 1970s while exhibiting a large collection of his early works. His highest selling work, Mother of Twins (1970), sold for $174,636 at Bonhams’ Africa Now: Modern Africa in 2016. Other high selling works include Drummers and Dancers (1964), sold for $130,977 at Bonhams’ Africa Now: Modern Africa sale in 2016; Beggars (1964), sold for $111,618 at Bonhams’ Africa Now: Modern and Contemporary African Art auction in 2017; African Woman with Gele (1975), sold for $109,382 at Bonhams’ Africa Now auction in 2014; and The Duet, sold for $87,199 at Bonhams’ Africa Now auction in 2017.

Yusuf Grillo’s stained glass and mosaic works have been commissioned for a number of public buildings, including churches, universities, government buildings, and Murtala Muhammed International Airport.


Art prices: “Yusuf Grillo,” retrieved on March 25, 2019 from

Biography: “Yusuf Grillo,” retrieved March 26, 2019 retrieved from

Yusuf Grillo

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