“Chances are if you look at my work you will recognize some of the scenes. Sometimes I might have to point those places out to you, but when I do, and if you're a local, you will see them come into recognition,” said artist Dana Richardson.
“I like that because it reminds me of talking to a Savannah old-timer who tells you a story about a place that you feel you know but that has since changed and you feel a sort of strangeness that things are and are not the same.”
Richardson’s fondness for Savannah is present in her currently in progress mural “Late Afternoon near the Academy.” Richardson was commissioned by the Telfair Museums to paint this piece in tandem with the opening of the “Launching Savannah’s Art Scene: Founders of the Savannah Art Club” exhibit.
Originally from Sewanee, Tenn., Richardson obtained her B.F.A. and M.A.T. from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She has also studied in Aix-en-Provence, France at the Marchutz School of Painting and Drawing, and in NYC at the Art Students League.
“A large part of my understanding about painting and color came after college when I would paint from the bed of my truck parked around town,” said Richardson. “Savannah has such a clear bluish light around noon when the sun is just past it’s pinnacle. The strong shadows make these street scenes very theatrical.”
Her affinity for Savannah’s urban environment is prevalent throughout her work. “My initial inclination was to go out to our beautiful marshes, but that landscape is too flat for me. The historic houses are what I call ’Savannah’s mountains.’ You get all the wonderful verticals,” said Richardson.
In “Late Afternoon near the Academy,” Richardson uses the founding members of the Savannah Art Club and the Telfair Square as her inspiration. “I took the immediate surroundings of the mural’s location as the subject matter of the piece itself. The work is a direct representation of the local environment and how my own point of view mirrors my feelings about those places,” she said.
Richardson’s technique experiments with sight and perception. In the mural, she uses elongated lines and flat shapes to depict the shadows of a painter at their easel accompanied by two people watching them work. The painter is looking towards the Telfair Academy through a pathway lined with trees, which gives the viewer of the mural a panoramic glimpse of Telfair Square.
“The figures not only reference the people who attended classes through the Savannah Art Club in the 1920s, but also Richardson’s personal connection to her teachers and outdoor painting,” said Telfair Museums in a release on the mural.
The most striking element of Richardson’s work is her innovative interpretation of color. She utilizes all the colors she can see in a subject instead of adhering to the obvious color that is present. “I let the colors themselves be the value, i.e. yellow is inherently lighter than red, and I let that define what color should be used rather than the color that things actually are (local color),” she says.
For Richardson, the sky is not just blue, it is several different blues with bright pinks, yellows, and oranges as well. She boldly implements and juxtaposes vibrant, saturated hues that challenge the viewer’s perception of color. “I do this because of a real interest in perception, and perception not in the form of opinion but how my eyes actually see. I wanted to see how far I could push color away from the easy answer of local colors,” said Richardson.
“Straight lines, bright colors, they create a chemical response in our brains that feels soothing and affirming,” said Richardson. “I hope that when someone looks at my work they feel good, they see the order in the chaos.”
Once completed, Richardson’s mural will be on display on the third floor landing wall of the Jepson Center.
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