Born Detroit, 1953 / BA, University of Detroit / Lives in Detroit
Where do you begin with Maurice Greenia, Jr., aka Maugré? This painter, sculptor, blogger, actor, musician, cartoonist, pamphleteer, puppeteer and all-around walking art project is a bundle of creative energy focused through a lens likely ground in some dimension far, far away but somehow reflecting so much of our world.
His prolific works in watercolor, acrylic, oil, and pen and ink, such as View of a World (2007), create in viewers the irresistible urge to consider how, under what circumstances, the strange and colorful figures prancing across a strange and fantastical landscape could make sense. Look at one of his estimated 10,000 (!) drawings or his pieces hanging in a gallery exhibit, such as the huge section of Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art given to Greenia in a 2008 show there. Some will jump out and resonate for reasons that may immediately call to mind something of personal significance. Others may resonate for reasons that may not become clear for a long time, if ever, yet they will continue to compel and intrigue.
Fanciful and colorful as they may be, his painted works, such as Falling Landscape (2000), or Below Time (2003), for the most part are the products of stark reality sifted through his eye, sometimes depicting all the glory of life and the world, sometimes commenting on its ignominy, often offering a glimpse into how to navigate through both.
A solid Detroit boy, Greenia grew up primarily on the eastside, attending Detroit schools. Later, while on staff at the Catacombs Coffee House, Greenia honed his acting, puppetry and musical performance chops. He later would often combine his puppetry and kazoo for performances at art show openings, such as at the former Zeitgeist Gallery & Performance Venue.
It was upon meeting a group of surrealists in 1977 while on a cross-country hitchhiking tour after graduating college that Maurice found his true artistic direction. They took a liking to him and gifted him a box of surrealist literature, which he devoured. He had found his affinity and his productive output took off. Early works from that period include An Invocation of the Forces of Summer (1978). His performance art took on a decidedly surrealist twist that led to sidewalk chalk drawing street art performances, musical mayhem with the Don’t Look Now Jug Band and Spaceband, sketching while riding the bus and elsewhere, passing out copies of his long-running Poetic Express, and more.
Meeting Ann Arbor gallery director Jacques Karamanoukian in the early 1990s led to Greenia accompanying an exhibit of his paintings to France. The exhibit and the artist were very well received, and Greenia was exposed to the art and performance esthetic there. (He had by this time begun signing his works Maugré, adding the accent mark in honor of his French visit. In a typically surrealistic turn of events, he later discovered that “maugre” is an actual word, albeit archaic, meaning variously “to withstand in a defiant manner; in spite of; yet.”)
In 1994 at the invitation of a local civic organization, several artists painted murals on the boarded-up Hudson’s Building in downtown Detroit. Later, the murals were painted over without warning. But the flat black paint used made an ideal surface for Greenia’s next bit of surrealist mischief: The Hudson’s Street Art Project (1996-97) – 500+ chalk drawings on the building. The drawings evoked the spectral inhabitants of the hollowed-out Hudson’s, both the homeless who lived in its bowels, and the ghosts of decades of downtown shoppers and Hudson’s employees. The blazing colored-chalk palette and quixotic shape of the images stood in stark contrast to the desolate downtown Detroit of the mid-1990s, giving those still working downtown and out-of-town visitors relief in the knowledge that there still was life in the city. The project, which spanned two years, quickly became part performance, with small crowds often gathering to watch.
When Hudson’s was imploded in October 1998, onlookers with an astute eye could catch glimpses of the remnants of Greenia’s fanciful chalk figures floating upwards, escorting the venerable old building to the heavens.
It might be fitting to end this essay with a statement from an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Could the transcendentalist have been calling out to a fellow artist, though of the future, when he wrote in “The Over-Soul” (1841) that, “…private will is overpowered, and, maugre our efforts or our imperfections, your genius will speak from you, and mine from me.”
Gary Freeman, January 2018
Copyright Essay’d 2018