Get to know: Maurice Greenia '76, Rooted in art history and surrealism

May 15, 2018
Maurice Greenia '76

If you’ve spent time in the McNichols Campus Library, you’ve probably seen some of Maurice Greenia’s work. The library technician and preservation specialist is responsible for many of the creative displays that showcase special themes, exhibits and events.

Maurice Greenia Painting GreenBut outside his work on campus, Greenia, ‘76 is also an artist in his own right, known in the art world as “Maugre” — a combination of the first three letters of his first and last names — with a distinctive style that he describes as “rooted in art history and surrealism.”

“I’m just kind of forging my own style,” he added.

He enjoys playing with different mediums and can turn almost anything into a canvas, from discarded pins and magnets to wood-backed laminate samples. Through his street art, sidewalks and abandoned buildings have become temporary galleries to showcase his work, large and small.

It wasn’t necessarily the path he envisioned when he started college at University of Detroit in the early 1970s. He majored in Communication Studies, which he said helped tighten his writing. It was around the time he graduated that he began publishing his poetry and passing out free photocopied collections, which featured his drawings in the margins.

After a trip around the United States in 1977, on which he befriended counter-culture icon and author Edie Parker (former wife of On the Road author Jack Kerouac) and spent time with noted surrealists like Philip Lamantia, Greenia returned home to Detroit ready to focus on his art; he began to paint, draw and sculpt in earnest.

Maurice Greenia Painting SquareGallery shows soon followed, and Greenia continued to immerse himself in creative outlets. He added puppet shows, which he had enjoyed putting on as a child, to his repertoire, using puppets he finds at resale shops.

“I make it up as I go along,” he said. “I’m a one man production.”

He also began taking yearly trips to New York City, where he has found inspiration while wandering through places that are off the beaten path, similar to his explorations of Detroit.

“My intense exploration of its cultural venues and its streets has had a strong impact on my creative work,” he explained.

One of his most memorable works was a chalk mural on the side of the old J.L. Hudson’s building on Woodward.  He created it as a response to other artists’ murals on the building being painted over.

“Due to wind and rain damage, I'd have to go back days later and go over pieces in chalk again to restore them,” he recalled. “I walked and took the bus there carrying a ladder so I could work higher on the building.”

Unfortunately, the work was destroyed when the building was demolished in 1998.

But Greenia didn’t let that slow him down. By then, in addition to his visual works and puppet shows, he co-founded (with fellow visual artist Jim Puntigam) The Spaceband, which he describes as a “free-form improv/experimental/ humorous musical aggregation” with varying numbers of performers who play usual and unusual instruments.

He had also started showing his work in France. In 1996, he traveled to Begles, near Bordeaux, to take part in an exhibit. While there, he also explored Paris, where his work would later be part of exhibits, too.

Greenia joined the staff of the McNichols Campus Library in 2001. It was a natural fit for him; he had worked at the Detroit Public Library during high school and college, and the job offers ample opportunities for him to put his artist’s touch to use. In addition to the displays, he also handles many of the book repairs.

“It’s good to be back here,” he said.

When he’s not working or creating, Greenia is still out, still exploring the city that’s been his lifelong home.

At 64, he’s certainly not slowing down. “I lead a busy life,” he said. “I’m a young 64.”

— By Amy Skimin. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.