Eight-year-old George Grace was flipping through a comic book one day when he noticed an ad for an art contest promising scholarships and cash prizes. He began to imagine the possibility of developing his own artistic talent — maybe even using it as a way to earn money. But that dream didn’t take off until 1981, when he began painting for the first time.
“I started by doing copies of masterworks, just to learn how to use the paints, and ideas of composition,” he says. “I’m pretty much self-taught.”
Since then, Grace has captured scenes from many of his travels — the gleam of yellow cabs beneath the streetlights of New York City, gathering clouds over a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a solitary farmhouse in Utah. Most of his subjects are featured at night, or dusk or dawn, projecting a range of moods through light and shadow.
Nothing inspires him more than “the richness of Western New York,” he says. “The light here at certain times of the year is just beautiful.”
His days working at Bethlehem Steel in the ’70s are recalled in a painting of moonlight outlining the coke ovens, smoke rising from the stacks and mingling with the clouds. A pastel beckons the viewer toward the marquee of the historic North Park Theatre on Hertel Avenue. In a painting of Putnam Street, just on the edge of Elmwood Village, windows in a row of homes glow with welcoming light against the dark sky.
Browse his works on fineartamerica.com and you’ll discover many familiar landmarks: the Electric Building lit in red, white and blue; a kaleidoscope of colors on bustling Chippewa Street; the lights of the Delaware Park Casino reflected in Hoyt Lake.
His works have been exhibited nationally and internationally, and locally at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and Buffalo Steel Plant Museum. With a lifetime total of some 2,300 works of art to his credit, he has also published two books of poetry, including one about his memories of working at Bethlehem Steel.
Two of his paintings were added recently to his other works in the Roswell Park art collection — a glimpse of shadows on snowy rooftops and an icy creek cutting through a wintry landscape. Both are on display in the Scott Bieler Clinical Sciences Center.
The paintings are enduring symbols of Grace’s connection to Roswell Park. In March 2016 he was diagnosed with stage I non-small cell lung cancer. The following month he enrolled in a clinical trial that involved both surgery and photodynamic therapy (PDT) — a treatment pioneered at Roswell Park — with the PDT delivered in the operating room during the surgery.
Despite his diagnosis, his creativity remains strong, and he continues to produce some 100 works every year. His art, he says, “has reminded me to stay motivated, stay focused, and enjoy life.”
Stay tuned to Cancer Talk to learn about George Grace’s battle to quit smoking after 50 years and the revolutionary lung cancer treatment he received at Roswell Park.
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