Restless artistic temperament brings painter
back to Lowcountry roots
By Adam Parker
The Post and Courier
Sunday, July 19, 2009
After 10 years living in Chicago and more than two decades in Naples,
Fla., painter Jonathan Green is coming home to the Lowcountry.
The artist, widely known for his use of intense colors and emotional
explorations of Gullah culture, will take up residence on Daniel Island
by the end of July, he said.
The move is partly a consequence of a restless artistic temperament,
"I'm returning to Charleston because I think I've done enough in
Naples as an artist and resident," he said. "I have to move around a
little bit ... to gain experience and knowledge."
Green, whose work has been featured at the Gibbes Museum and other
institutions, is an art activist, promoting the idea that art education
should be an intrinsic component of any school curriculum. "People just
don't understand the importance of the arts," Green said.
Black culture in particular is poorly represented in the world of
visual arts, yet exposure to painting, a universal language everyone can
understand, is a critical way to learn about identity, faith, history
and contributions to society, he said.
"We focus strongly on everybody else's culture," he said, adding that
it's time to do a better job presenting black culture.
Green, 53, said his passion is informed by his childhood, growing up
in rural South Carolina and New York City and reared by his mother and
grandmother. In those years, he did not see his own culture repre-sented
in major U.S. institutions despite the significant contributions of
black people, he said. Black culture still is woefully underrepresented,
He is involved in the development of an arts-infused curriculum for
the new Sanders-Clyde Elementary School scheduled to open in January. He
has designed a mural for one of the school's outer walls.
Born and raised in Gardens Corner, a rural community not far from
Beaufort, Green attended Huspah Baptist Church, a reincarnation of the
Tabernacle Church founded by Robert Smalls. From an early age, he was
made aware of history and celebrated his cultural inheritance, he said.
In the Windy City, where he attended the School of the Art Institute
of Chicago, he became active in politics, then disenchanted by the
city's political turmoil, he said. Still, it left him with a clear
notion that art must take politics into account.
He said he is driven today by two main ideas: To make sure art is
ensconced in our community — its public facilities, schools and churches
— and to help women understand that they are the "force and guide"
ensuring that their children conceive of themselves as free to pursue
"No mother would not want her child to have human rights," Green
said. Any mother who fails to stand up for her children — white, black,
straight, gay — has abdicated her responsibilities, he said.
Angela Mack, executive director of the Gibbes Museum, said Charleston
can only benefit from having someone of Green's professional character
"I think it's not only natural, but a wonderful chain of events,"
The Gibbes long has provided Green with a forum for his art and
ideas. The latest show dedicated to his work was the 2004 exhibition
"Rhythms of Life: The Art of Jonathan Green."
He has worked extensively in the Charleston area, creating a Spoleto
Festival poster, joining panel discussions, producing his famous
painting, "Seeking," which hangs in the library at Mepkin Abbey, and
promoting the arts in the community. Mack said his relocation to Daniel
Island will raise Green's profile regionally and result in new
"This could begin a new chapter in his life," Mack said. "And aren't
we all lucky that we get to observe this firsthand?"
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902 or