Whatever happened to . . .

Richard Grieco of 21 Jump Street fame blows his cover: He's a serious painter now, no joke

Richard Grieco of 21 Jump Street fame blows his cover: He's a serious painter now, no joke

Richard Grieco, artist, September 2012
After painting for more than two decades, Richard Grieco started showing his work in 2009. Courtesy Photo
Richard Grieco, September 2012, Complexity of Twins
Complexity of Twins, mixed media on canvas. Courtesy of the artist
Richard Grieco, September 2012, Void of Emotion
Void of Emotion, mixed media on canvas. Courtesy of the artist
Richard Grieco, September 2012, Oceans of Mars 2
Oceans of Mars 2​, mixed media on canvas. Courtesy of the artist
Richard Grieco, September 2012, American Red
American Red, mixed media on canvas. Courtesy of the artist
Richard Grieco, artist, September 2012
Richard Grieco, September 2012, Complexity of Twins
Richard Grieco, September 2012, Void of Emotion
Richard Grieco, September 2012, Oceans of Mars 2
Richard Grieco, September 2012, American Red

Three years ago, 21 Jump Street 1980s TV legend Richard Grieco decided to share a secret with the public. Like Tony Bennet, Jerry Garcia, and Jane Seymour before him . . . Grieco too was both a celebrity and a painter.

It all happened on the set of If Looks Could Kill, a 1991 action/comedy in which the actor plays a high school slacker who gets mistaken for a secret agent. (The movie didn't earn great reviews, but it does feature a surprise cameo from Roger Daltrey.)

"We were filming near Montreal and I was hanging out with a bunch of artists up there," Grieco, who is in Houston to meet with art collectors, tells CultureMap.

" When I started dripping the paint over the piece, it just seemed to come alive all of a sudden. I got this feeling like this is what I should be doing."

"I'd painted a little bit before, but never seriously. Anyway, I decided to get a canvas and started painting the mountains around the chateaux where we were staying. I worked on it for a few days but was really pissed off at the way it was going and threw it on the ground."

But there at his feet, the three-by-four foot canvas took on a new life.

"I decided to try something else and asked my assistant to pick up some gallons of black, red and white paint," Grieco says. "When I started dripping the paint over the piece, it just seemed to come alive all of a sudden . . . I got this feeling like this is what I should be doing. I felt such a strange feeling of relief in a way."

As he continued acting throughout the 1990s, painting remained at the forefront of Grieco's creative drive, often serving as an outlet for his frustrations with the entertainment industry.

"With both acting and painting, you derive from and manifest emotions you wouldn't normally tap into," he says. "The main difference is that when you finish a piece of art, there's final product that you can see. With acting, the end product is decided by directors and editors.

"You see the movie and say, 'What happened to that scene we filmed?' All of those months torturing yourself to get a character right can be for nothing sometimes."

In the last decade, the actor has moved away from film and television to concentrate on writing music and poetry. The introspective mindset needed to write has dovetailed nicely into creating art, Grieco says. Nevertheless, his paintings have largely remained out of the public eye until recently. 

"About eight years ago, Dennis Hopper, who was a good friend of mine, told me to start showing my work . . . I really respected his opinion." 

"About eight years ago, Dennis Hopper, who was a good friend of mine, told me to start showing my work," he says. "We talked about art all the time, just knocking different ideas around. I really respected his opinion but I only finally got around to sharing my work in 2009, when I sort of randomly posted a piece on my Facebook page."

Someone wanted to buy the piece right away, he laughs, saying that he scrambled to call an art dealer friend and quizzed him on how to price paintings. (For those wondering, this particular piece went for $10,000.)

"I've sold about 20 pieces worldwide since then," Grieco says. "Buying a piece is a very personal thing, so I always make sure I speak with each person interested in getting a painting. It's wonderful for me to hear from owners once they receive the pieces as well."

Stylistically, he has dubbed his work "abstract emotionalism," a moniker he said captures to the "unbridled emotion" that goes into each work.

"I paint because I have to paint, like I have to get these feelings out of my head," Grieco says. "There will be this vague idea I have when I begin and then the painting begins to take over itself. There are certain times when people ask me about why I did this or that.

"Honestly, though, I can't really answer them. I just let the paint move and give it room to breathe."