Best known for depicting the people and landscape of the lowcountry, Green refers to memories of local African American traditions, as well as tales and stories told by members of his extended family and friends. The artist’s paintings reflect an authentic historical understanding of lowcountry culture.
Painter, printmaker. Born in rural Gardens Corner in Beaufort County on August 9, 1955, Jonathan Green is the son of Melvin Green and Ruth Johnson. A graduate of Beaufort High School, Green served as a U.S. Air Force illustrator before enrolling as a textile design student at the East Grand Forks Technical Institute in Minnesota. In 1976 he began his formal study of drawing and painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1982. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by the University of South Carolina in 1996. While studying in Chicago, Green met his partner and business manager Richard Weedman. Weedman made it possible for Green to pursue independent study abroad to supplement his formal education. While traveling and visiting museums, Green realized that “the best artists are those who paint what they know best. It took a trip to Switzerland and Mexico to return me to Gardens Corner, South Carolina, and begin my body of work ‘Gullah life reflections.’”
Best known for depicting the people and landscape of the lowcountry, Green refers to memories of local African American traditions, as well as tales and stories told by members of his extended family and friends. The artist’s paintings reflect an authentic historical understanding of lowcountry culture, although he sometimes takes poetic license with his subject matter. Green’s lowcountry subjects may or may not be factually realistic, but they communicate a strong sense of conceptual accuracy.
Green’s mature style conveys a narrative historicity, simplicity of form, and passionate energy that has been favorably compared with African American masters such as Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, and Romare Bearden but might also be compared with classically modern Europeans such as Gauguin and Matisse. Green’s education at the Art Institute of Chicago raised his awareness of traditions in Western and non-Western art that utilize color as a symbolic element—one of the most important stylistic aspects of his work. Green’s work also subtly reflects his formal study of textile design and the contemporaneous influence of the Pattern and Decoration movement. Reaching maturity as an artist in the 1980s, he shared in the renewed interest in figurative painting among contemporary collectors and museums.
Coming on the heels of the second of four solo traveling exhibitions, the 1996 publication of Gullah Images: The Art of Jonathan Green brought Green’s work to a wider and more diverse audience. The artist has been invited to give one-person exhibitions in major museums nationwide and is represented in numerous private and public collections, including those of the Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Naples, Florida; the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia; the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; the Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston; and the McKissick Museum of the University of South Carolina, Columbia. In 2009, he received the Key of Life Award for his achievements in the visual arts by the NAACP. Green has twice been awarded the Order of the Palmetto (2002 and 2019), South Carolina’s highest civilian honor.
Green, Jonathan. Gullah Images: The Art of Jonathan Green. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.