When people browse the pages of Jonathan Green’s new book, they don’t just look at 179 of his latest works of art. They will look at his life.
“Forty-five years of painting, of exhibiting, of social responsibility, of helping where I can in the arts – that’s what you’re looking at,” Green said this week from his studio in Charleston, NC. South.
Green, 66, is renowned for his work depicting scenes from the Lowcountry, his native Gullah culture and the Southern experience. He began a tour for his second book, “Gullah Spirit: The Art of Jonathan Green” Wednesday in Charleston, but he will be in Charlotte on Friday for a reception at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Art and Culture.
Like Green’s first book, “Gullah Images” from 1996, the new book features many vibrant paintings showing Gullah traditions, life, and the pastoral setting of the salt marshes along the South Carolina coast. But in the 25 years between the two publications, Green’s techniques changed to use bolder brushstrokes and more depth and texture, according to the University of South Carolina Press, which published “Gullah Spirit.”
Using art to share the story of the Gullah Geechee people – descendants of enslaved Africans who lived on the maritime islands along the coasts of Carolina and Georgia for hundreds of years – is vital to Green. Community, he says, is everything.
He remembers hanging out with old people when he was growing up, hearing about history, spirituality and life in general.
“Learning these things at an early age is always with you,” Green said. “This is something you can never forget, and I guess I’m one of those who never forgot. I have a great self-esteem and pride in my family for generations and what they did with the oppression that many of them were in.
And he says it’s important to share a more complete story. It’s something he thinks about constantly, living in an old southern town where tourists come to learn the history but don’t always get the full picture.
“Much of this history has all but disappeared from the African and African American peoples,” Green said.
Green says his book is also a way to show how important art is, especially for young people.
“Without art, we are essentially machines,” Green said. “And this message needs to be orchestrated in all of our communities, especially communities of color. Because these images are rarely seen unless it’s in, oh, cigarettes, alcohol, abortion, needles. When you look at billboards, that’s basically what you see of people of color. And I’m just an artist trying to get a message across that you can come from, as they say, humble beginnings – rural communities – and continue to illustrate to a wider audience the value of people.
He certainly did.
Green grew up in rural Beaufort County, South Carolina. He then lived in New York, studied art in Chicago, and his works have been exhibited in venues across the United States and even overseas. He was appointed Ambassador of the Arts for Charleston, received two honorary doctorates, and received the Key to the City of Columbia, among other accolades.
But he insisted on returning to South Carolina.
“I think the older you get, the more you want to settle down, and it just so happens that I was born and raised in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. he declares.
In 2016, he designed sets and costumes for the “Porgy & Bess” performance of the Spoleto Festival, and his works inspired the Columbia City Ballet’s travels “On the wall“production. Green’s work has previously been featured in an exhibition at the Gantt and one of his paintings, 1989’s”Folding sheets, ”Is part of the centre’s permanent collection.
Lately, he’s taken advantage of the isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic to spend time in his studio, focusing on his art. And after more than four decades as a professional artist, he says he’s not trying to prove anything to anyone.
“I am painting something that people know, understand, that they can relate to,” he said. “I think that’s the real success of an artist: visual imagery, something that connects to the past, the present and, maybe, the future.”
Although signed copies of “Gullah Spirit” and his first book can be purchased at the event, he says he doesn’t expect to find him sitting there signing books. Instead, attendees will be able to hear Green talk about his life and work in a conversation with the staff at Gantt.
“I’m just going to sit there and talk a little about myself,” he said with a chuckle.
The reception for the launch of “Gullah Spirit” is Friday at 6 pm. You can find out more about the paid event at Gantt Center website. You can read more about Green and his work at jonathangreenstudios.com.