7 Questions with Teig Grennan, Hawai‘i State Art Museum’s Senior Exhibit Specialist
The artist talks about his own work, the art community and finding balance in 2020.
HONOLULU Magazine: What kind of art do you do?
Teig Grennan: I am primarily a painter. I used acrylics for over 20 years but have rediscovered oils and don’t have much reason to go back to acrylic for now. I am learning more from using oils than I was with acrylics, so that seems to be the path to follow. Recently, I have been working on landscapes and still-lifes, but with the approach of making “pieces” and not “pictures.” I have shifted from serving a representation of the subject with my paints toward serving the creation of a good painting using the subject as a basis.
The other side of me is abstract and loves mixed media, enamels, spray paint, clear coats and resins. My background as a former sign painter and muralist cultivated my interest in graphics and lettering. I struggle sometimes with which way to go, but for now I want to focus on improving my vision and understanding of color and composition. I feel working from direct observation is the best way to do that right now.
HM: What do you love about working for HiSAM?
TG: Reconnecting with art has been the greatest benefit for me with this job. The people we work with and for are also essential to shaping the work experience and environment, so I really feel blessed to be part of this team. As well as working with my hands, I enjoy the logistics and planning for what we do. It’s always something different because no two pieces of art are exactly alike and there is a lot of variety in how to display different pieces.
For most of my life I had to work jobs during college and afterward to pay the bills, and that didn’t always line up with a creative path. One of the deepest benefits of working at HiSAM is the intimate exposure to the art and the resulting personal influences that grow from that. There is so much beautiful and strong work to learn from, both classic and contemporary. It has helped me formulate my evolving opinion about what works and what does not visually. I also feel honored to be involved with the state art collection and an agency that promotes the arts and education. I feel there is real meaning in what I do now.
HM: When did you start working for HiSAM?
TG: I started working at HiSAM in 2016. There is no better job, in my view.
HM: You not only work for HiSAM, but also for the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, which provides art to a large network of state agencies across the Islands. What are some things that have changed at work because of the coronavirus?
TG: Well, the COVID crisis has really impacted the museum industry across the nation. I feel fortunate; as a state agency we are able to continue to find ways to provide programming and install new exhibits at HiSAM during the pandemic. As for distribution of the SFCA Art in Public Places Collection, we have taken a partial pause from rotating the collection on a large scale until things are safe again. However, we are still rotating the collection for public view and have recently completed servicing the state Legislature after the election. The state Capitol enjoys and displays a significant portion of the collection due to the concentration of so many public offices in one place. Our goal is to display the state collection for the public to view outside of the museum, in places they may frequent normally such as universities and civic offices across the Islands. You can view the entire collection online at the SFCA website, and the museum is currently open for visitors.
HM: How have things changed for you as an artist as a result of this year’s experiences?
TG: This year has been really stressful for so many people, myself included. Isolation has also become more of a factor. I have taken this time to try to improve while I have the time. As the galleries have also been affected, I feel really cut off from displaying my work to the public. Also, Honolulu needs more galleries and opportunities for artists to show, and this whole thing runs counter to that. So I keep painting no matter what is going on, and hope soon we can all reconnect one day. It’s definitely about survival right now so I am glad the biggest threat to the arts and society at large has been replaced by people who went out and voted for our future. I feel a bit more hopeful now.
HM: Looking back on 2020, what are some things that helped you stay sane and positive?
TG: Art and music have been essential for coping. Local music and podcasts have been great—there are only so many movies I could watch while stuck at home. In addition to painting, I worked harder on creative writing, and I have a few storylines going now. One is about my grandfather as the main character, who was stationed here at Hickam in the 1930s, but beyond that it is fictional. Writing is a good thing to shift to if I don’t feel like painting but want to stay creative. It’s like writing the movie I want to see and watching it at the same time.
Time outside has also been important, and I learned to not take that for granted after all the parks and trails had closed. I have been bodyboarding and have returned to cycling after leaving the gym in April. To me it’s all about establishing balance. I need a baseline of stability to be creative.
HM: Who is your favorite artist of all time?
TG: That’s a tough question because I love so many modes of art. I would have to say Vincent Van Gogh: His selfless dedication to art despite never being rewarded for it in his lifetime seems to come through the character of his painting, which is unique. His path was deeply personal and his methods were unconventional. There was no crowd out there cheering him on, he just did it anyway and never stopped. The beauty of his works will endure forever, as they are perfectly imperfect and never to be repeated or improved on, in my opinion.