As a young boy, Kevin Grass was intently painting at the kitchen table in his family’s small home in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, when his mom rushed in, asking: “Didn’t you see all the smoke?” He was so engrossed in his work that he never noticed the sneakers that his mother had placed in the oven to dry were beginning to smoke. That persistent dedication to his art has never left him, and it is why Grass now spends hundreds of hours perfecting each painting until it conforms to his vision. It was never a given that Grass would become an artist. His dad worked as a grocery store clerk and his mom as a school cafeteria worker when he was growing up in the small Midwestern community an hour south of St. Louis. Neither of his parents were interested in art and never took him to visit an art museum.
In high school, Grass created a wide variety of commissioned works, ranging from portraits and landscapes to campaign signs and car decorations. One of the murals he assisted with in downtown Ste. Genevieve still exists today. It has faded, but shows that Grass had promise as a figurative artist from an early age.
After becoming valedictorian of Ste. Genevieve High School, Grass began his formal art education at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He started as an architecture student, but his obsession with painting was so strong that he changed his major at the beginning of the second semester of his sophomore year. He received his undergraduate degree in drawing and painting in 1990 from Washington University on a full academic scholarship.
At the University of Georgia, he met his future wife, Michaela Oberlaender, in a Northern Renaissance art class. That course had a extensive impact on his life because it also introduced him to the allegorical realism and the meticulous techniques of the Flemish masters that influence his work today. In his studio classes, Grass was encouraged to paint loosely and use oil paint, neither of which felt right to him, but it was an important stage in earning his masters of fine art degree.
Upon graduation, Grass spent a few months painting replicas of famous artworks onto furniture for Habersham Plantation in Toccoa, Georgia. During this period, he came home energized to paint his own works at night.
The fall after receiving his graduate degree, Grass began teaching art full-time at Gordon College in Barnesville, Georgia. In addition to teaching, he pursued corporate art commissions, regional juried shows, and had his first solo museum exhibition. While teaching was new and exciting, it was always a means for him to be able to paint.
In August 1997, while his wife was expecting their son, Grass moved his family to the Tampa Bay region to accept a teaching post at St. Petersburg College in Florida. He still teaches full-time as an Associate Professor of Art on the Clearwater campus.
Kevin Grass made the switch back to painting in acrylics when his son Nicholas was born because he did not want the toxic fumes in his home. The other reason was because some of the oil pieces showed slight cracks in them after they were varnished, making them look as if they were already as old as the pieces by the Renaissance Masters. It took a while for Grass to be as skilled in acrylics as in oils, but now if you look at works in both media side by side, it is difficult to distinguish between them based on the medium alone.
Prior to September 11th, 2001, Grass sold several landscape paintings to the State of Florida and other percent for art programs, but those kinds of commissions seemed to dry up as the country was gripped in fear after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Figurative pieces that comment upon social issues of the day captured more and more of Grass’s interest. He put his paintbrush to use to comment upon issues that caught his imagination. Some artworks had a personal connection, such as his Inheritance piece, which expresses his rejection of his family history of alcoholism, or Sugar Baby, where he deals with his own soft drink cravings. Other artworks are prompted by his role as a father: Revolution encourages kids to go outside to play instead of watching electronic screens, and Final Post deals with the serious problems of cyberbullying.
Grass has been showing his work in solo booths at art fairs like Red Dot and SPECTRUM in Miami during Art Basel/Miami, SPECTRUM/Indian Wells, and Artexpo 2017. The personal connections he makes with collectors at these events is invaluable. The feedback about his work at these shows, which may top 30,000 visitors, comes back to the studio and influences themes for future artworks.
You may see Kevin Grass's work at his website www.kevingrass.art.