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Poker Felt and Artist’s Easel: Stanley Grandon Launches PokerFaceArt to Bring His Work to the Public

by |  Published: Nov 01, 2023


Stanley GrandonStanley Grandon walked into the poker room at Motor City Casino in Detroit and noticed a real jerk at the $2-$5 table – Steve Martin, that is, star of classic comedies like The Jerk, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Parenthood, Father of the Bride, and numerous other beloved films.

Rather than peppering the comedian with questions about showbiz, the two struck up a conversation about their shared love of art.

Martin and Grandon are both admirers and collectors of works by Eric Fischl, one of the country’s leading figurative painters who rose to prominence in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Both own some of his works and discussed their love of paintings and poker.

However, a big hand soon ended his brush with the comedian. Grandon caught a huge draw and couldn’t help but chase it.

“I was sitting there for about a half hour and I made a stupid play,” he admitted. “I was chasing and pretty soon I had like $400 in the pot, and it never came. I lost and I left. My son said, ‘That was really stupid because you should have just talked to Steve Martin and invited him over because you have a big art collection and he’s an art collector.’ But I didn’t do that.”

While a bit of a missed opportunity, the experience at least combined two of Grandon’s passions, and now the retired physician and longtime painter has launched to share some of his work with others.

Doctor’s Office to Race Track to Poker Table & More

A bit of a renaissance man, Grandon likes to stay busy. A native of Detroit, Michigan, the 78-year-old worked as a leading ophthalmologist after receiving degrees from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. He practiced for 45 years before retiring during the pandemic. Originally Grandon planned to become a traditional physician, but a bad back changed his plans.

“I was doing a summer program in neurosurgery,” he says. “Some of those operations take eight hours and at the end of eight hours of standing my back would hurt. In ophthalmology, you can be a surgeon but we sit down for all our procedures and look through a high-powered microscope.”

The ophthalmologist and poker player even designed a particular lumbar supporting chair to use during surgery, which is still manufactured today. Grandon specialized in cataract and refractive surgery, conducting as many as 50 operations a week. The doctor was at the forefront in breakthroughs in radial keratotomy.

Grandon loved the job, but had other passions too, including owning an amateur Porsche racing team as well as racehorses. Some hefty wagering on the golf course was also part of his routine when not seeing patients.

He also loves poker. The interest came in high school and college in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. He’d play games like Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo with friends, never really studying the game and admitting that he wasn’t that good.

When casinos opened in Michigan in the 1990s, however, Grandon found a renewed interest in the game and began taking poker more seriously. Phil Gordon’s strategy books became particularly helpful to his development.

“At that time I could make quite a bit of money playing poker because nobody knew how to play,” he says. “So I started studying it like I studied medicine.”

Grandon became a regular on the tournament and cash game scene in the Motor City, although much of his play now is in local tournaments either in the Detroit area or in Boca Raton, Florida, where he spends half the year.

Along with poker, painting and drawing captured Grandon’s imagination from an early age. A seventh-grade teacher once told his parents that he was an “art genius” and said the youngster should consider becoming an artist. His father dispelled the notion, arguing that painters don’t make much money and that his son would be better off becoming a doctor.

Studying art may have gone by the wayside, but his love of putting brush to canvas did not.

“I’ve been painting and drawing all my life, just for fun,” he says. “I started taking it more seriously about five years ago. Now, since I’ve retired, I’m doing it full time because I always loved art and always loved gambling.”

His renewed interest in painting included art classes at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center and the Todd Burroughs Atelier Art Studio, among several. The work included painting human figures and Grandon decided to take that experience and fuse two of his passions.

“I really love poker because I play two, three, four days a week,” says Grandon, who boasts one of Michigan’s largest art collections of works from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. “I combined my love of painting models with poker playing, so in the last couple of years I’ve been doing poker paintings.”

Grandon paints in an expressionist style, meant to bring out emotion from viewers. Many of the subjects of his works feature poker archetypes, player images coming from his own head or inspired by other players he may have seen at the tables. The characters are exaggerations, not meant to be realistic.

“The whole idea of expressionism is that it elicits feelings,” he says. “They’re not supposed to be photorealistic.”

Poker can definitely be a game of emotion and the artist believes that fits right into his artistic pursuits. He’s now trying to bring more card playing to the canvas with hopes of becoming recognized as the “artist of poker.” The PokerFaceArt project is the first step in sharing some of his work and passion with others poker-playing art aficionados.

“There are no paintings in the world that put the viewer at the poker table playing against players that are archetypes,” he says. “You’ve got guys who are in sunglasses, guys with funny hats – all sorts of characters. That’s one thing I love about poker, there are so many unusual and interesting characters.”

A self-professed adrenaline junkie, Grandon has not only enjoyed fast cars but also some epic downhill skiing. A bit later in life now, poker gives him some of that adrenaline rush without the possibility of injury.

“Poker would increase my heart rate in a big hand,” he says, “and it would be going out in 120 beats a minute because it’s so exciting.”

For the Love of Poker

Grandon has found some success with his art so far. One of his favorite pieces, “Big Stack, Little Stack,” features a woman looking on glumly as she stares at the results of her fortunes at the table. The title of the work is a bit self-explanatory as she sits on a tiny stack of chips while her winning neighbor’s pile is herculean by comparison. Female players are a common inspiration for Grandon.

“I like women players,” says Grandon, who has been married 55 years and has three grown sons. “There’s not that many of them and I think they’re interesting people because most women don’t play poker, and the ones that do can be quite good. That lady (that inspired the painting) was quite unhappy because she had a little tiny stack. It was in a tournament and the guy looked very self-satisfied. I knocked her out so she was unhappy and angry at me. But I liked the expressions on both of their faces.”

The painting won an award in a contest at the Burlini Studio of the Arts in Florida, which featured 100 entries. That experience gave Grandon some added confidence in his Poker Face pursuits because the award was voted on by other artists. He’s now reaching out to an even wider audience. Perhaps some of his paintings will be displayed among art lovers’ other works or even in a poker room. Maybe home game players might place his work among other card-playing classics like the “Dogs Playing Poker” series.

After a successful career in ophthalmology, Grandon is offering some of his artwork for sale. Some those sales will be geared toward philanthropic donations to eye clinics for the impoverished and uninsured.

“My ambition is to be the artist of poker because I’ve loved poker all my life, especially the last 25 years,” he says. “In order to become an important artist you have to do unique paintings. These paintings are unique.”

You can find Grandon’s work at his website, PokerFaceArt, and also follow him on Facebook and Instagram.