As sure as there will be palmetto fronds blowing in the wind and live oaks dangling Spanish moss, there will be artists who seek to capture the beauty of the Lowcountry’s scenery. However, the group of Sea Island artists who are exhibiting at ARTworks this month draw more of their inspiration from the people of the Lowcountry and their stories than the landscape. Each painting is a snapshot of everyday life: women heading to church in their Sunday best, men hauling in nets full of shrimp, or portraits of women pausing in their work to stare out of the
canvas, with looks every bit as mysterious and compelling as the Mona Lisa. Yet other paintings are done without faces at all, as if to allow the viewer to insert themselves and their own friends and family into the scene.
The artists’ whose pieces are included in the exhibit are: Sandra Renee Smith, Diane Britton Dunham, Susan Molada Madison, Mary Inabinett Mack, Sonja Griffin Evans, Hank Herring, Elayne Scott, Claudette Humphrey, James “SAINT” St. Clair, Al Davis, and Marie Lewis. With so many different creative voices included, it is particularly interesting to wander from piece to piece, paying attention to how each artist tells a story in their work. Some, like Hank Herring draw on African symbols to impart spiritualism, while others like Sonja Griffin Evans use the positioning of figures to denote social relationships. Still others, such as Diane Britton Dunham and Claudette Humphey clothe their subjects in vivid primary colors which seem to convey strength and vitality.
Although the artists included in the show are based here in the Lowcountry and many are self-taught, they have achieved national and even international acclaim for both their artwork and as ambassadors of the Gullah culture. When asked to describe how Gullah culture influences her work, Mary I. Mack says, “When I think of the Gullah culture, I think of things like the food, music, art, sweetgrass baskets and (hand-woven casting) nets…” All of those things are represented in the works on display, and so much more.
The show “Sea Island September” runs from September 12 – 28, with an opening reception on Friday, Sept. 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. The ARTworks gallery is located at 2127 Boundary Street in Beaufort Town Center.