6 Stylish Artists
Southern style can be hard to define when it comes to art. As we think about what Southern style truly means, some of our favorite Southern artists—who have either worked hard to define their own terms of Southern style or have stumbled upon it gracefully—keep coming to mind.
Whether they are well-known painters like Daniel Smith, who has a permanent gallery in the Telfair Museums, or artist Mollie Youngblood, who just recently opened up her first gallery and shop in downtown Savannah, these six artists are the epitome of artistic Southern style.
1. b. moody
Behind the quirkiness of his Southern charm, and behind the face of a local Savannah real estate agent, you can find Bradford Moody—better known as b. moody—painting new works of art right here in the Lowcountry. Moody explores social issues such as race, religion, gender, power, and redemption through his artwork, so it’s no coincidence that the Southern culture here has impacted the heart behind his works.
Moody notes that Savannah is a completely different ball game for him. The culture and history in this town has helped to shape his works, fighting against the well-rooted injustices found in Southern culture.
“Lots of that stuff is based on what I observed in Savannah,” Moody says. “It’s like a throwback to the 50s, and lots of that stuff is fascinating to me.”
For Moody, it’s all about expressionism, and that in itself sets him apart from many other artists in Savannah. Taking inspiration from an artist like Basquiat, Moody hones and garners a passion for taking the cultural norms of a place like Savannah and places them in the spotlight with his paintings, essentially making a social commentary with most of his paintings.
Through it all though, his focus is on capturing feelings and emotions, and in exploring the many different experiences he’s taken in living in the South.
2. Robert Morris
Perhaps it was meant to be that the Georgia Ports’ Senior Director of Corporate Communications Robert Morris would call the Savannah River his office, his home, and his studio. His trade with the ports provides a vital creative concert that fuels his craft and allows his art to remain fresh, vibrant, and as alive as the River itself..
“When I paint or create, one hat comes off and another comes alive,” Morris says, “and it is somewhere in the middle ground—the interaction, even the conflict that informs both parts of the brain—that I find original ideas, motive for metaphor, and sense of place.”
On the note of the past and its force for the future of Savannah and Southern art as a whole, Robert sees Savannah transforming into an international “art capitol.” As he observes and paints that progress, he hopes his work, his art, will make people think and, if they feel the energy of the River he paints, impact their sense of humanity.
“What makes art Southern is our connections to each other, to history, and to the land,” Morris says. “With that depth comes the opportunity to express so many different ideas rooted in passion, hope and spirituality.”
3. Daniel Smith
Some people go on hikes ; some people take walks through the park—but Daniel Smith? He likes to paint the meditative sites many people long to see or walk into. A local Savannah artist from New York, Smith is a landscape and abstract artist that likes to dig deep into the art of painting spaces that people can get a sense of peace from.
“I’ve always expressed myself best through drawing or painting,” says Smith. “Even when I was very, very young, and even though I never showed anyone, I had books on books full of drawings.”
Experimental with elements such as color and form, Smith draws his inspiration from landscapes and the many endangered marshes he sees around him in the Lowcountry. His heart for environmental surroundings has currently lead him to an exploration of endangered landscapes, which he says has increased pace in the last 20 years and is an effect of the mechanical lifestyle of human beings.
At the end of the day, his art goes beyond the touch of a Southern culture, and beyond the influence of having a love for the environment—at the end of the day, it’s all about understanding the importance of your surroundings and digging deep into that meditation.
4. Bin Feng
Artist Bin Feng's Journey from Shanghai to the Southern city of Savannah established a vision within himself to communicate with people beyond his artwork, which consists of photography, video installations, and even sculptural art.
“I would like to visualize everyday life experiences living here in the South,” says Feng. “When I first came here, my language was really bad, so the language barrier became the motivation of making all the artwork. I have the desire to want to communicate with people, but the language barrier stopped me, so that inspired me to want to emphasize on the visual components rather than the language.”
Feng attributes his desire for wanting to pursue a full time career as an artist to his college experience in Shanghai, working with some of the best artists in the city. In fact, it was the bicultural shock of transitioning to such a different culture in the U.S. that altered his vision as an artist for the better.
Recently, 220 of Feng’s works were showcased at HAZA, a contemporary art gallery owned by artist and currator Christina Zanetti. Out of all these works, ranging from collections such as “Pin Man,” to “The American Dream,” Feng is sure to mirror that of his cultural struggle here in the U.S.
5. Mollie Youngblood
Thankfully for artist Mollie Youngblood, Savannah has always been open-minded when it comes to art, despite its oftentimes conservativeness. Youngblood graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2007 with a B.F.A. in Painting, and after a few years of teaching privately, opened her own gallery and shop called Bohemia South.
Layered in hand-painted recycled sheets, armchairs upholstered with patchwork, and a mass of plants in eclectic jars and pots—situated at the south end of Forsyth Park in Savannah—the shop parallel’s Youngblood’s own artistic style: Bohemian, infused with Southern.
Youngblood’s work ranges from carefully crafted jewelry, hand-painted baby and women’s clothes, mixed media paintings, and more. But no matter what ingenious artwork she creates, it will always adhere to her aspirations as an artist: to introduce a little fun to Southern style.
“Savannah is quirky, but I think in every traditional home there are the exact same things I sell here, but in a traditional way,” Youngblood says. “You could have your gorgeous white sofa and put this quirky patchwork upholstered throw pillow on it to spice it up. A lot of things are traditional. I just do it in a funky way.”
6. Shea Slemmer
Years before Shea Slemmer opened her first artist’s studio in Savannah in 2003, her first canvases were the walls of her childhood home on a five-acre self sustaining organic farm on the edge of the Ocala National Forest in Florida.
“I didn’t make a conscious decision to go on an artistic path. I was already on one,” she explains.
Shea’s path would take her from Ocala to the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, and eventually to Brooklyn and Savannah where she splits her time between the studios she owns and maintains in both cities.
Currently, her Savannah-influenced art comes to life in an old, not-yet-renovated, yet possibility- packed church near the beginnings of the Starland Village.
“I am a process artist,” she says. “That means it’s not about the end-result of the painting—it’s about the creation of the painting.”
Because part of the artistry in Shea’s work is her process, the work she creates in her Brooklyn studio radiates a contrasting energy to her Savannah art.
“New York is a noisy, safety-yellow swirl of energy, and Savannah is a sticky cicada song after an afternoon thunderstorm,” says Slemmer. “It’s very different and my work reflects that. I see Savannah’s art scene busting through a glass ceiling and it has never been a more exciting time to live here.”