Nelson Makes His Paintings Sing

18Apr08

When creating a painting, the goal of artist Kadir Nelson is to make his paintings “sing.” Nelson relayed that thought to a large audience in attendance at his presentation at Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing Friday afternoon.

So how does Nelson make his paintings sing? The answer is simple: By going the extra mile with research and attention to detail.

In addition to his great love for art, Nelson also has a love for history. Those two loves are evident in latest book entitled: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball.

Nelson was commissioned to put the book together while he was a college student. Now 32 years old, Nelson just completed the book and to wide acclaim. According to Nelson, the book was a journey of several years because of the exhaustive research he underwent to document detail after detail of the Negro League era. In an example of his research, Nelson picked up an old Negro League uniform and wore it himself while standing in different poses to get a feel for his subject.

That kind of research makes his paintings sing.

The cover of the book features a rendering of Negro League home run slugger Josh Gibson with his bulging left bicep staring out at the reader from underneath his wool Homestead Grays uniform.

When I first saw the painting, I thought Gibson was ready to step out of the page and shake my hand because it was so lifelike. I also started wondering how many home runs Gibson would have hit if he had been given an opportunity to play Major League baseball.

As a baseball fan, I’ve always wanted to go back in time and attend a baseball game at old Ebbets Field which the Brooklyn Dodgers called home. Included at the end of Nelson’s book is a painting of Jackie Robinson warming up in Ebbets Field in his first year as a Brooklyn Dodger. Robinson of course is the first African-American to have played Major League baseball. In gazing at the painting, I felt like I was back at Ebbets Field, standing in front of Jackie Robinson. The old stands, the old scoreboard, the old advertising on the outfield fence, it’s all there in sublime detail courtesy of Nelson.

In short, Nelson is a master in taking someone back in time with his work.

“I try to pay attention to every detail in my (historical) paintings,” said Nelson this afternoon. “It’s going that extra 10 percent that makes a painting. When I put together a painting, I want to go all the way to the vein of the goldmine.”

Indeed.

~posted by Jeff Febus

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2 Responses to “Nelson Makes His Paintings Sing”

  1. 1 phildehaan

    Sounds like a great talk. Kadir Nelson’s art is on display now in the Center Art Gallery at Calvin. Also Nelson will be at a reception and book signing tonight (Friday, April 18 from 6:30-8 pm) with books available for purchase and refreshments in the Lower Gezon Lobby.

    For info on that, and to see some of his paintings, go to:
    http://www.calvin.edu/centerartgallery/2007_2008/kadirnelson07.htm

  2. 2 Alexwebmaster

    Hello webmaster
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