While Jonathan Green was attending the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1970s, far from his rural home in Beaufort County, he read Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again and bristled at its premise.
“After reading the book, I can understand perhaps why some people feel that way, but I never wanted that book to taint my feelings about home,” Green says.
During Piccolo Spoleto, Green will present a lecture with a slideshow of his work, which has always portrayed the landscapes and people of the Lowcountry.
Green grew up in Gardens Corner, S.C., a rural Gullah community where his family has lived on heirs’ property for generations, and he never intends to leave his home behind. Today, as an internationally acclaimed artist based in Charleston, he still returns to Gardens Corner once a month to visit family and attend the church where his mother is a minister. His bright oil paintings still come entirely from memories of Gardens Corner — and nowhere else on earth.
“What I know is that my home is a place of survival for African Americans for 300 years, and that’s not something I’d give up on very easily, nor would I want to,” Green says. “And as an artist of expressions, I also know that the images of my people are not readily available. They’re mostly in liquor ads and cigarette ads or some level of incarceration, and I wanted to be able to show to the youths of today and tomorrow that there is a culture. This is your culture, and I will paint it for you, keeping in mind humanity, love, and respect.”
The Gullah, still largely based on the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina, have deep roots in West African cultures. American planters purchased enslaved people from the region to work on rice plantations, which played an outsize role in South Carolina’s economy by the mid-18th century. Along with their knowledge of irrigation and planting, the enslaved people brought art, foodways, traditions, dances, and a creole language.