Those who braved the icy sleet, wind and cold to attend Friday’s opening of the “Preservation of a Culture: The Art of Jonathan Green Poster Collection Exhibition” at the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) were for awhile transported to a warm and sunny place.
The center, located at 3831 S. Michigan Ave., was transformed by Green’s vibrant works with sun-drenched scenes set along the southeast coast. The rare, 30-poster collection will be exhibited through March 1 and is a major event of SSCAC’s celebration of its 70th anniversary. The collection is a gift to the center from Green.
“We are so excited to be celebrating 70 years of having kept our doors open,” said Diane Dinkins Carr, president of the SSCAC board of directors. “It’s an honor to have Jonathan Green, a longtime friend of the South Side Community Art Center, be a part of this celebration.”
A native son of rural South Carolina and one of seven children, Green grew up in an area populated by the descendants of West African slaves, who settled on the Sea Islands. Here, these African people, preserved their cultural practices, foods and “Gullah” language. Sweet grass baskets—handwoven in the West African tradition and sought by collectors throughout the country—remain a major testament to the artistry of the Gullah people.
The 54-year-old Green, who received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute Chicago, distinguished himself as the first artist of Gullah ancestry to train at a professional art school. He would gain acclaim by selecting the familiar images of his rich community as subjects for his paintings.
The posters in the Chicago exhibition represent the wonder of Green’s ability to capture simple activities, such as daily chores, rituals or celebrations and immortalize these moments. His brilliant colors, multi-hued skin tones, wide-brimmed straw hats, summer skies and billowing fabrics are hallmarks of his compelling aesthetic.
In Chicago for a week’s worth of activities, Green chatted exuberantly with admirers at the Feb. 5 opening reception while signing copies of the book “Gullah Images: The Art of Jonathan Green” (University of South Carolina Press, 1996) and commemorative posters marking the SSCAC’s anniversary.
He spent time earlier that day at a rehearsal for “Off the Wall and Onto the Stage: Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green” the acclaimed ballet celebrating his work, that will be performed at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. (see details below). It’s the Chicago premiere of the show that was first staged by the Columbia (South Carolina) City Ballet in 2005.
“The dancers were so high backstage—the energy level it requires is incredible,” explained Green. “It’s a challenging performance—the velocity of the movement is so intense. This is the 20th performance and I’ve loved every one of them, but I just want everyone to get through it and to be able to take a breath!”
The South Side Community Art Center, established in 1938 by a group of prolific trailblazers of the arts that included Margaret Burroughs, Charles White and Archibald Motley, was one of the few places where black artists could exhibit their work and engage in critical discourse. Green, according to Dinkins Carr and others, has talked frequently about the important role the SSCAC played for him--a young man from the south studying at the SAIC.
Other events being held in partnership with the SAIC are:
Feb. 6, 2010
Printmaking Workshop and Artist Talk with Jonathan Green
Little Black Pearl, 1060 E. 47th St.
Workshop: 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.
Artist Talk: 2:30 – 4 p.m.
Feb. 26, 2010, 6 – 7 p.m.
Conversation with Jonathan Green, The Art Institute of Chicago, Fullerton Hall, 111 S. Michigan Ave. Moderated by Ronne Hartfield
Feb. 27, 2010, 7:30 p.m.
“Off the Wall and On to the Stage—Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green”
Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St.
For ticket prices and availability:
call 312-334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org