Confessions from Eleven of the South's Greatest Artists
Cedric SMith, Jensen Hande, Sal Rodriguez
Shrouded in mystery and myth, the South is, perhaps, the most culture-rich area of our great country and therefore has seen no shortage of artists.
A select few, however, see the South for what it is- taking from its physical, spiritual, historical and emotional domains, and in turn creating transcendent works of art that propel us forward and shape our way of thinking.
Hometown: Thomaston, Georgia
Medium: Mixed-media paintings, photography
To say Cedric Smith is prolific would be an understatement. He seems to be constantly creating, researching and working through ideas. Many know him for his photography work. A self-taught artist in all respects, he has a way of creating intimate spaces within the walls of his photographs, making an indelible connection between the subject matter and camera, and giving us, the audience, a rare feast of the eyes. His mixed-media paintings, however, delve deep into life growing up in the rural south. Taking from a wide range of historical sources, most notably brand advertising and photography, Smith creates large, provocative, mixed-media paintings that conjure up the absence of African Americans in advertising and popular brands, many of which were created by African Americans and conveniently white washed over. The paintings themselves are beautifully rich, aesthetically pleasing and deceptively simple, qualities that most artists spend their entire careers trying to achieve. Most notable however is the way in which Smith seems to reclaim this power, no doubt through extreme diligence, and make it seem effortless. Some of these pieces are on public view at the Francis Walker Museum in Thomaston, GA, the Tubman Museum in Macon, GA, and Morris Brown College in Atlanta, GA. cedricsmithphotography.com
Hometown: Savannah, Georgia
Medium: Oil, silver leaf on aluminum
June Stratton’s paintings are often whimsical blurred visions of fantasy that immediately transport you to a place of fragility. She’s been working as an artist since 1989, working mostly in Seattle, but in 2010 decided to move to Savannah. “When I lived in Seattle I was known mostly for my dark moody tonalist landscapes,” says Stratton, “when I moved to the South I used the change of environment to reinvent myself as an artist. The funny thing is in my current surrealist work the landscapes have crept back into my paintings…I believe that if you are not pushing yourself then you’re not creating.” Her current aesthetic blends photorealistic portraiture with a surreal touch, reminiscent of Magritte, though perhaps entirely more fantastical. “I start from an idea I have in my head then find the appropriate model and collaborate with them. I take hundreds of photos and sometimes my initial idea evolves into something completely different once I review them. I create a photo mockup complete with the surrealistic elements like clouds, water and nature that is my coastal environment. Using this mockup as a guide I go to my easel block in the composition with paint. When that layer dries, I add silver leaf. What follows is multiple layers of paint with many adjustments. I finish with varnish which brings out very rich color.” She attributes her inspiration to the South’s abundance of natural beauty and its sublime coastal estuarine environment. (“That and the fact that paint dries faster here,” she mentions cheekily.) You can currently find her work at the Robert Lange Gallery in Charleston, Reynolds Square Fine Art, and Distinction Gallery in Escondido, California, as well as the cover of American Art Collector. junestratton.com
Hometown: Savannah, Georgia
Medium: Painting + fibers
Katherine Sandoz arrived in Savannah in 1995, graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design, and over 20 years later still calls Savannah her home. For the past 12 years she has worked full-time as a commercial and fine artist, moving seamlessly from illustration to painting to fibers. Her works of art are bold and full of emotion. “I create color-fueled abstractions, depicting the natural world that are informed by photographs, drawings, detailed painted studies and abstract studies,” says Sandoz on her process. For the past 20 years she has let the people and landscape of the South inspire her and inform her subject matter. “The faces, the flowers,” she says, “natural-born Georgians. The water, land and sky I paint surround Savannah and extend throughout the South. When I pick a location or subject matter outside our region, I don’t doubt that parts of that South reappear.” With her fine art in particular she akins her work to that of any other profession, “all vocations require dedication to the foundations of the trade and a fierce desire to reconsider, reorder and reinvent,” Sandoz says. She is always moving forward, always changing and growing. You can find Sandoz’s work currently at Laney Contemporary, Spalding Nix Fine Art and her website. katherinesandoz.com
Hometown: Savannah, Georgia
Medium: Metal and mixed media
Inspiration is a struggle for many artists, but creative vision seems to come easily to Savannah artist Shelly Smith. “The ideas in my head just have to come out,” Smith says. “If I don’t make them they just stay in there and I can’t move on to something else. It’s like an attic. You have to make room.” For years, she says, metal was the connecting theme in her work – more specifically, upcycled oil drums. She made dresses from strips of metal hammered into shape on an anvil (see “Ornamental Armor,” p. 128). Jewelry, platters, vases, light fixtures and other utilitarian items sprang to life from reclaimed metals. But her new work has a new overarching theme: birds. “I used to paint birds all the time with watercolors before I was a welder,” she says. “Now I just feel like I see them everywhere.” Smith is preparing for a fall exhibition of mixed-media pieces called “Gods and Monsters,” housed in a miniature church. And, per usual, everything will be made from found and recycled materials. From simple bird rings to lifelike, disembodied metal torsos with metal birds cascading up and out, the likeness of birds has come to dominate many of Smith’s recent works in “Gods and Monsters”. “It’s my biggest project to date,” she says. “The birds, to me, represent human transformation and an ability to excel.” Landscaped by hand with a metal rose garden, the tiny church will look like a lush environment, despite the fact that it’s made from discarded things. “I’m intrigued by taking something so grotesque and transforming it into something beautiful,” Smith says.