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Painter Jenn Griffith is making waves with her coastal-inspired artwork

Painter Jenn Griffith is making waves with her coastal-inspired artwork
May 2020

Griffith's art calls viewers to find joy and take action to protect the environment

Jenn Griffith’s acrylic works capture scenes of natural landscapes—from the ephemeral crest of a wave to evergreen palmettos—on a wide variety of surfaces including canvas, wood, walls, and even surfboards. This Tennessee-born artist began painting when she was searching for a creative outlet after graduating from Furman University, and the Lowcountry became her primary muse soon after she moved here in 2014.

Since then, Griffith has made a career out combining impressionism and realism in her seascapes, working out of a King Street studio and displaying her pieces with the Charleston Artist Collective, which each month donates a percentage of proceeds to select charities. Likewise philanthropically minded, Griffith plans to paint murals as part of public beautification efforts through the city’s parks department and the nonprofit Enough Pie in the coming months. Keep an eye out for her work at the “Fiore” art showcase at Merchants Hall, which has been rescheduled for this fall.

Good Vibes: I am an advocate of oceanic and marine wildlife conservation and use my paintings of seascapes to inspire others to appreciate and preserve these waterways that we love so much. My main goal through my artwork is to evoke positivity within the people looking at it, while also bringing to mind the beauty of nature. I wouldn’t say there’s too much to interpret; my subjects are things that bring me joy, and I want my work to bring that emotion into the collector’s space.

Beat of Her Own Drum: After I moved to Charleston and ventured out on my own as an artist, my work was very much directed by other people’s desires. I painted any subject that was asked of me to make ends meet. My work eventually evolved into what I’m actually motivated by rather than what I think others would be interested in purchasing. Ironically, as soon as I began to parallel my paintings and my passions, my brand grew into itself and things really fell into place.

Coast is Clear: I grew up on a river in Tennessee, wakeboarding and wake surfing, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I started surfing here in Charleston. Surfing gave life to my connection with the water; it gave me a place of belonging and a feeling of serenity, and finding that level of peace and joy has really translated into my work.

A Canvas is Born: While building my art career, I worked at Lululemon for two years. In a really fun turn of events, when they opened their Kiawah location—although I no longer worked for them—they asked me to create a custom-branded surfboard for the storefront. That’s one of the things that led to painting surfboards and using them as canvasses.

Picture Perfect: For my beach paintings, I typically use photos that I’ve taken as a reference or recall what they look like in my mind. There are so many landscapes that a beach can have; some parts have jetties, which have a completely different look than the dunes covered in beach grass. Some days the ocean is angry, and other times it is serene and peaceful.

(Left) Griffith paints finishing touches on a custom surfboard in her King Street studio; (Right) Splish (acrylic on canvas, 24x30 inches, 2019)

Scrubbing Bubbles: While painting, I use a technique that can make acrylic look like watercolor. I’m very rough with my brushes, so by scrubbing paint on a canvas and blending thoroughly, it can give it a watercolor effect.

Social Influencer: I love the street artist Banksy (and I even named my dog after him) because he has established himself with a great juxtaposition: a complete enigma but with a strong voice to his convictions. He doesn’t inspire the style of work that I create so much as my attitude and go-getter mentality.

Eco-Friendly: One of my biggest stances is to be aware of and considerate of the environment and what we’re doing. I always walk or bike to my King Street studio and try to avoid using my car and single-use plastics. I reuse most containers that I buy—my paint brushes are held in gelato jars. I plan to partner with water and conservation groups when I release new paintings later this year.

Time to Reflect: During quarantine, I’ve been working from home, which has been an adjustment because I’ve used my studio for two years now. Lately, I’ve been painting what I’m yearning for: water, palm trees, and surfboards—the things that bring me joy. I’ve also been experimenting with different techniques, even creating things that seem paradoxical, like a pink ocean, a wave made out of wood, or rainbow palm trees.

From Scratch: This summer, I intend to paint bigger and more creatively—on and off the canvas. I am building my own frames and stretching the canvas over them, rather than purchasing pre-made canvases. It’s a challenging process, but it’s rewarding in that it makes a painting truly one-of-a-kind from the start. They are honestly crafted and have no size parameters. Having a carpenter boyfriend who helps me make them is also a bonus.