Our cover this month, Jonathan Green’s “The Performance” (10 in. by 8 in.), sold for $2,000 at Swann Auction Galleries’ African-American Fine Art sale in New York City on Oct. 6, 2016. Green is considered one of the most important contemporary painters of the Southern experience.
Born and raised in South Carolina, Green became the first known artist of Gullah descent to earn an art degree. Green, who set out to join the U.S. Air Force after high school, had high hopes to receive professional training in illustration but was disappointed when he instead was assigned to be a cook. Taking matters into his own hands, he enrolled in a college near where he was stationed. His teachers, who were impressed by his talent, encouraged him to pursue art as a career. Green went on to enroll in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, earning a B.F.A. in 1982.
Green’s heritage is directly reflected in his work—his colorful paintings and prints are a visual autobiography, documenting Gullah culture and the daily chores, activities and celebrations he encountered during his upbringing. Though Green is very outspoken about his efforts to try to preserve and raise awareness of his culture through his art, he admits that he didn’t always have much appreciation for his heritage. It was during his time in art school that he found that African-American culture was seldom represented in visual works.
With his art now appearing everywhere from permanent collections at various art museums to puzzles and calendars, it’s safe to say that Green’s efforts to change this underrepresentation haven’t gone unnoticed.