Painter Jonathan Green talks about visualizing Africa’s influence on the South

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The crisp bold colors and shapes of Jonathan Green’s paintings capture the vibrant culture of the South—a culture that, as his artwork points out, is influenced by and indebted to African Americans. His artwork captures the sense of history and community inherent in art, music, food, worship, and the expansive Southern landscape. 

This made him a logical choice to represent the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, a celebration of the region’s culinary culture. Here, Green shares with dot429 his thoughts on race, art, and food in the South and the poster he designed to represent the festival.

dot429: How would you describe your art? Do you see yourself as part of a Southern artistic tradition?

Jonathan Green: My work is a mix of African cultural imagery and Impressionism. I see myself not only as a part of Southern artistic tradition, I am it. I am a rescuer and messenger of an existence of people that is hardly ever recognized in the visual arts. My role is to bring recognition to the people who came from West Africa and helped to create one of the largest agricultural phenomena in the world. With that addition came culture, food, cuisine, crafts, and so much more. Enslavement brought an unbelievable level of contribution to what Charleston is today, and, through my art, it is my hope that the influence of those people can be understood and recognized.

dot429: How has Charleston influenced your work?

JG: Charleston has influenced my work by providing a home in a rich and diverse cultural city, and it has helped me to look into history and understand the contributions of West Africa to this community. When you feel at home, then you are free to be a truly an inspired painter. The landscape of the Lowcountry is probably the most visually idyllic setting, perfect for inspiration in the arts, as it is the beginning of spawning estuaries, where life starts in the marshland and moves to the ocean and into the land. It expands into the heartland of America, but we live on its coast on the edge of the world. Charleston’s abundance of coastal trees, marsh, and landscape—mingling with the ocean—inspires my use of rich blues and green colors.

dot429: Can you describe the city’s artistic community? Is there a vibrant arts scene?

JG: Charleston has a vibrant arts scene and is home to many artists—from painters and sculptors to craftsmen and architects. It’s a diverse arts community, and it continues to grow everyday. My role in the community is to give a visual imagery to the living experiences of growing up in the South.

dot429: Who are your influences?

JG: I am deeply inspired by the works of Matisse, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Lawrence, and Harper.

dot429: How are you involved in the Charleston Wine + Food Fest? Why are you involved? 

JG: My involvement with Charleston Wine + Food goes back to its very beginnings in 2006. I love to eat and enjoy a great bottle of wine. I love the food scene in Charleston and being part of the culinary community of the Lowcountry. People are discovering what makes Charleston so incredible, as we have always been farm-to-table with vegetables and seafood from our farms and estuaries. Our farming community is strong, and every meal goes best with a side dish of Carolina Gold Rice—without it, I question a plate being an authentic Southern offering, as rice has been a staple for over 200 years here. My role with Charleston Wine + Food in 2015 is as the festival’s official artist and to help the festival be more inclusive, just like menus are more inclusive. We want to bring more people to the table!

dot429: Is there a relationship between food/wine and art? 

JG: Food, wine, and art are intrinsically tied. You need nourishment to be creative. I do not have a single experience of painting without it being accompanied by great wine and food. After all, artists are the ones that offer the visual imagery of what food and wine look like!

dot429: Why should people come to Charleston? Why should they come to this festival?

JG: Visiting Charleston is imperative to understand American history. Charlestonians live their Southern culture, and we take food, wine, and art to the next level. The Charleston Wine + Food is an annual festival that celebrates all the incredible food and chefs of the Lowcountry—it shouldn’t be missed. Cultures work together in Charleston and illustrate what the South is made of, honoring our history and envisioning a vibrant future.

dot429: Tell us about Loaded Rice Barge, your official artwork for the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food 2015 Festival (available here).

JG: Loaded Rice Barge depicts the transportation of Carolina Gold Rice, and I’ve added more of the African element that would have been present had African people had more freedom to express themselves and their culture, not only in mind and body but also in form and function. The series of work from which Loaded Rice Barge emerges is about the planting and harvesting of rice, allowing viewers to see our African culture’s role in America’s rich cultural food history, perfect for the 10th anniversary of BB&T Charleston Wine + Food.

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