Addie Jo Bannerman, also known by her artist name AJ Grey, is a relative newcomer to Savannah, having only moved to the city with her novelist husband in last October.
With her latest exhibition of portraits at Gallery Espresso, the watercolorist is looking to make her mark on her newly adopted hometown.
"I am drawn to women’s faces," Bannerman explained about the show. "I think the reasoning behind that is because when I exhibit my art, I want for a woman to look at my piece and feel powerful."
The expressive images of different types of women, some highly detailed, some merely hinting at their forms, collectively convey a wide range of sentiment, something which the artist finds critical to what she’s trying to do with the exhibition.
"I feel like human emotion is something that is universal," said Bannerman. "And agony or sadness or happiness or joy or contentment or even anger, these things, you don’t have to say anything about it.
"All you have to do is look at someone’s face. So when a woman views my portraits I want for her to point at it and say, ‘That’s my story. I know what she’s thinking. I know that look in her eyes.’"
Examining Bannerman’s highly skilled compositions, viewers might be inclined to assume she’d undergone a high level of training with the art form. The painter is self-taught, however, and only picked up watercolors in 2016 through a bit of happenstance.
"I wanted to kind of dabble in a different medium," she recalled. "I was going through my closest that had a lot of art supplies in it, and I found a gouache set that I had previously bought for an art class that I was going to be part of, but ended up getting canceled. And I was like, ‘Hmm, I wonder if I just kind of play around with this for a little bit…"
She began to explore the rediscovered vehicle for creativity, vigorously practicing with the previously forgotten art supplies. Her early work focused on crystals, specifically agate slices, "the ones that look really swirly, really circular, almost a little bit trippy in a way that really draw you into all their colors," Bannerman recalled. "And really that was a great practice technique for me because I could really practice how much water to use and how much water not to use."
It also taught her to relax and allow the somewhat unpredictable medium to do what it wanted to do, rather than to fight against it’s nature.
"You can try have as much control as you want with watercolor, but in the end it’s going to do whatever it wants to do," she laughed. "So also learning…how to let go of control was really important."
Like the rest of us, artists or otherwise, Bannerman has had to deal with the additional loss of control associated with the global health crisis and all of it’s accompanying upheaval. The show features some pieces done in response to COVID-19, including "Cover Your Mouth," which the artist explained acts as a metaphor for what she sees happening in our society at-large.
"The girl has her chin up and she looks confident," Bannerman described. "She looks almost a little bit defiant. She doesn’t want to cover her mouth. She wants to still speak. She wants to still feel strong and in control. But in a way she’s not. But the feeling in her eyes, when you look at her eyes, it almost seems as if she’s okay with that. And I feel like that’s what we have to be right now. We just have to be okay day-to-day.
"Are we going to stay angry and defiant," asked the artist rhetorically, "or are we going to stay positive and just be human and work together?"