Greg Hart is a talented portraitist whose work explores unknown people across American history. Hart’s subjects are mostly found in photographs from the late 1800s yet his expressive, street-art-inspired paintings create a strong feeling of connection between the subject and viewer. This week Hart presents six portraits of Civil War soldiers on Buy Some Damn Art!
Where are you from and where do you currently live?
Born in Greenville, SC and I currently live in Charleston, SC.
Is geography something you think about when it comes to your identity (i.e. do you think of yourself as a “Southern artist”?)
I lost my Southern accent in college – possibly by watching tons of movies – not sure how it happened but it’s gone. Lately I’ve been returning to my roots through alt country music and Appalachian literature. It was important that I discover the South in my own way – not just through fried food, grits, or college football (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’m Southern like Hunter S. Thompson not Paula Deen.
Who are the people in your portraits? How do you pick them?
Rummaging. I scour online archives for a face that grabs me. The less I know about the person the better, at least for the purpose of this particular body of work. I don’t want to judge them by words but by the look on their face and the emotional weight that emits from the image – it’s like reading palms or auras. The six pieces in this show are soldiers from the Civil War.
Why paint the deceased?
My studio at Redux overlooks a church and graveyard constructed in 1838. You can’t turn a corner in Charleston without bumping up against history, usually in the form of an old building or cobblestone street.
Architecture, technology, and fashion change but people are the constant. Slavery and segregation in America seem far removed but these are our predecessors and we’re only divided by a few generations.
You have a unique, very expressive style of painting. How has it evolved to what we see today?
I had brief instructional encounters with Tim Hussey and Mark English – they both taught me to be fearless with materials and trust my gut. My intention is to plumb emotional depths, not make a pretty picture or show technical facility.
The artist's studio
What are a few things that you are inspired by right now?
There has not been a day that I’ve painted this year and not listened to Gillian Welch. ‘Elvis Presley Blues’ is a favorite song – amazing lyrics. If you play her music and browse my paintings – they are symbiotic. Distance running keeps me centered – especially when I can get off road for a few miles. Short stories by Ron Rash inspire me with their economy and emotional precision. And I love serial TV – we’re in a renaissance right now with HBO and AMC leading the charge. David Lynch introduced the idea of television as art with Twin Peaks – that’s still the gold standard.
Alice Neel 1960 Frank O’Hara no 2
Can you name a few artist crushes?
Richard Diebenkorn, Alice Neel, The Fauves, and Philip Guston. Went to Florida in November and visited the Norton Museum – got to see a few small Diebenkorn paintings. Since he usually worked very large, it inspired me to tackle these smaller pieces.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your work?
Janet, my wife and art director, is brutally honest – it’s one of the things I love about her and probably stems from her German lineage. She’s quick to dismiss mediocre work. When Janet is emphatic about a painting, I’m happy.