"Don't Drink the Water": Meet Charleston Based Artist Jenn Griffith
We caught up with Jenn Griffith, a charleston based contemporary painter on forging her own path as a professional artist, her deep connection with nature, and how surfing has influenced her work. Her playful color palette and unique depiction of seascapes mesmerize us and provide a creative commentary on protecting our waterways . Perhaps the most striking is her large scale surfboard art; taking pre-loved boards and upcycling them into pieces of art. We are so excited to share this first artist feature of 2021: “Don’t Drink the water”- a little look into Jenn's world.
Tell us a little bit about where you're from and when you started painting?
I grew up in southeastern Tennessee on the river, so I spent much of my time around the water. I have always painted and doodled, but it wasn't until after university, when I moved to Charleston, SC, that I began painting so much and really focused on it as a career.
How did you get into surfing? and surfboard art?
I met a few girlfriends here in Charleston who would lend me their boards, and I quickly caught the surfing bug, enough to buy my own board, and get to the water as much as possible. The surfboard paintings happened really organically; the first board that I painted was commissioned by a local Lululemon store to paint a branded, water-themed board for their storefront. They sourced a vintage board, and asked that I paint one of their store's mantras, "water is life," onto it. I found the process of cleaning and refurbishing the board to be very experimental and gratifying- giving new life to something that may have otherwise been tossed. While most of my boards are painted with the intention of strictly hanging as wall art, I wanted one a bit more functional for myself. For my birthday gift to myself last year, I commissioned a local shaper, Josh Hoke to shape a log, and he agreed to let me paint the foam before glassing. It's now my daily log, and I love it. It's so rewarding and humbling to know the hands that created something so real and special.
What brought you to Charleston and what is the creative/ surfing community like there?
I moved to Charleston for a job in publishing, which, clearly, did not end up as my career. Although, it certainly taught me a lot about business growth, and allowed me to meet some truly incredible people. The creative energy in this city is pretty solid and I have found it to be very intertwined. Your surf friend is probably also a great photographer or your bartender is a great musician. Maybe the salty air just lends people to tap into their creative callings. Most of the surfers that I know are also great photographers, painters, carpenters, or writers. 2020 was a hard year to really experience art, as all of our plans to gather for shows or galleries were stifled, but there is still a great opportunity for teamwork or collaborations on more screen-related endeavors- photos, videos, etc., and I have seen a lot of that coming out of the Charleston art community.
"Your surf friend is probably also a great photographer, or your bartender is a great musician. Maybe the salty air just lends people to tap into their creative callings."
(above) Jenn's log shaped by Josh Hoke & hand painted by her.
How would you describe your style of painting and what mediums do you use in your art?
I'd say my painting style is "fluid." Contemporary art that blends realism and impressionism. I find it fascinating and challenging to paint things like water or (coming this year- flowers) because it is something very fluid, full of shape and movement, yet painted on a completely static surface.
What or who has been the biggest influence on your art?
I read a book a few years ago, "The Code of the Extraordinary Mind" and it shifted my mindset. It talks about "brules" or "bullshit-rules" that society has framed up, that aren't really necessary. Reading that gave me a sort of personal permission to do what I wanted with my art and career. Nature and surfing have been the other biggest influences, at least on my subject matter. Nature is just too powerful and beautiful to ignore.
"Nature and surfing have been the other biggest influences, at least on my subject matter. Nature is just too powerful and beautiful to ignore."
What does a typical day look like for you? (morning routine etc)
I'm an early riser. I take my dog, Banksy, for a walk first thing, have some coffee, send/check emails. I like to get correspondence done in the morning so that the remainder of the day is open for hands-on. Many days involve trips to the art store, delivering paintings, or having a call or Zoom meeting with a client. I try to find some time for creation every day, even if it is just a sketch or writing in my planner, because, even though I am a painter, many days don't get to include the easel.
We love your playful color palette and how you use colors in an imaginative way ( i.e a pink ocean, or rainbow palms) Where do you find inspiration for your pieces and the colors you choose?
Well thank you! Color use is one of my favorite parts of painting- to create something imaginary in the shape of something real. Like the horse from The Wizard of Oz or the faces of Andy Warhol; I have always found it fun that, in artwork, colors can attach to any object. Another reason it is so fun is because I wonder, how do we know what other people see? Do you see the same pink that I do? We'll never know.
"I have always found it fun that, in artwork, colors can attach to any object. Another reason it is so fun is because I wonder, how do we know what other people see? Do you see the same pink that I do? We'll never know."
What other passions do you have?
I love pottery and wood. They are beautiful and tactile in a way that painting is not. I wish I had an entire pottery studio! And, although I have no talent of my own in this department, I love music and podcasts. Learning and listening is a daily need for me!
What advice do you have for others pursuing creative careers in the art world?
Keep going! Keep creating and working on your craft. Share your work! Online, in person, to friends.. be confident in your talent that is unique to you! Also, ask questions. People are usually open to helping you find the answer. If they aren't, they're likely pretty selfish and we don't have time for that energy. Finally, let go of the need for approval/permission for your creative/business choices. I even need to remind myself of that on occasion.
(Above) The progression of taking a well loved surfboard and turning it into art.
Do you have any exciting projects you're currently working on or that are coming up?
2021 is focused on more surfboard pieces, hopefully with a couple of bigger brands. Can't list them just yet, but they're in the works! I also have a collaboration releasing this spring with a sunglass company as well as a yoga company- there's going to be some JG artwork on their products.
Your deep love for the ocean and the environment are so evident in your work and we are inspired by the use of art as a way to bring awareness to the topic of sustainability. How do you feel you are able to integrate sustainable/ eco friendly business practices into your creative world?
I'm glad that sustainability shines through in my work! It is a big concern and passion of mine. As you all know, it's hard to be a brand and not be wasteful, but I have found some ways. Although it is more work, building my own canvases and frames lends to an eco-friendly approach of product creation. I also aim to create only what is needed, rather than producing in bulk-- I order prints from a local printer as the orders come in, rather than a huge order upfront. I use old, well-loved surfboards rather than new ones. And I'm lucky that my boyfriend, Jake, is a carpenter by trade, and builds most of my frames and canvas stretcher bars.
Sometimes people inquire on my tag of "don't drink the water." It is a few things: a nod to the very real need for better water quality, accessibility, and less chemicals in drinking water, both in the US and around the globe. It is also my nod to the adage "don't drink the koolaid"- don't believe everything you hear. Ask questions, think for yourself, forge your own path!