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The Chronicle Interviews Jonathan Green: An Artist with a Purpose
5/25/2016 5:04:35 PM

(-r) Visual artist extraordinare Jonathan Green being interviewed by “The Chronicle’s” cultural critic Hakim Abdul-Ali on May 19, 2016, in the Spoleto Festival USA headquarter’s garden. Photo: Sarah Elizabeth Stanley
By Hakim Abdul-Ali

There are some really gifted and obviously talented people in the world of the cultural arts, and you can absolutely be assured that artist Jonathan Green is one of them. He is a recognized painting and visual design master.

That reality is evidenced by Mr. Green's unquestioned status in contemporary art. He, simply put, is a qualified multi-talented craftsperson in the art world.

"The Chronicle" had the pleasure of sitting down with the super busy tour-de-force last Wednesday at the headquarters of the Spoleto Festival USA's quaint and magnificent downtown office building to discuss his artistic life. We took time to "rap" about his featured presence at this year's festival's marquee presentation of "Porgy and Bess."

The first thing that you are aware of when interviewing this proud South Carolinian is his truly passionate love for his African and Gullah backgrounds. That evident admiration peppers everything about this artistic visionary's love for his birthplace, his unique artistry and the arts-in- general.

Hailing from Gardens Corner, South Carolina, Mr. Green, 60, was very reflective of his generational heritage in our discussion. He said he "proudly owed so much to his known Lowcountry heritage which goes back many, many centuries."

His obvious love for the Lowcountry and Black History is something that you clearly see and get whenever you observe his well known painting style, with literal bold colors, bordering on simplistic tones and defined highlights running through his persuasive art work. Known primarily as an artist who features Black women as central themes in his paintings, Jonathan Green's original paintings are prized and are extremely valuable.

He paints pictures that seem to tell formative cultural stories, complete with vibrant and distinct colors, but they all say something about his respect for and pride of his South Carolina Lowcountry African-American heritage. That is quite obvious when you listen to Jonathan Green speak about his heritage and the role it has played in his life and the way it impacts his purposeful artistry.

For this year's much hyped and ballyhooed Spoleto Festival USA's presentation of the world renowned Charleston based operatic play "Porgy and Bess," Mr. Green's visual design genius will be a dominant feature in the dynamic artistic backgrounds. I sensed that this play was something he wanted to do in order to show the power of the African presence in Charleston.

The intensity is very apparent when you realize that Mr. Green has tackled this task with a deep and passionate purpose in portraying the Gullah links to the characters and the historical authenticity with dignity in this opera, composed by George Gershwin in 1934. It's a job that this artist feels honored to do in bringing to light the dignity of the Black experience with verve and gusto.

"Porgy and Bess" is an anticipated happening among the legions of Spoleto music devotees. This play has been the talk of the theater and festival going throngs for quite sometime, and much of that is due to the expected artistic excitement that Jonathan Green, an accomplished and disciplined visionary, brings to anything that he becomes involved with.

In our brief half-hour interview last week, I found out that one of my former undergrad design art teachers from Howard University in the '60s, the late Lois Mailou Jones, was a friend of Mr. Green. He spoke highly of Ms. Jones, a legendary African-American artist who died in 1998.

Mr. Green's interview also touched on many topics including the need for art and museums to be present in every school system and city in this country. He said rather emphatically, " The arts are a part of us in the Black community. Some of us are far more developed at an earlier age than some others." 

"Those developed people are like African shamans and what we don't have (now) in our communities is our shamans. We don't have the full vestige of the arts in our communities, and because of this (sadly), we have no way of memorizing, capitalizing and reflecting on our culture."

Jonathan Green is a serious spokesperson for the revitalization of arts throughout the country in every community. He related, "we have in some communities where the most sacred institutions are the churches. But, then they are restrictive of the multitude of (potential) talents in their midst." 

"Art has to be instilled in the minds of of our children. Every community should have a theater or an auditorium or a museum to reflect its individuality."

There will be six performances of "Porgy and Bess" beginning on May 27 with subsequent performances on May 30, June 1, June 3, June 8 and June 12.

Spoleto Festival USA opens on Friday, May 27, and ends on Sunday, June 12.

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