The first time I heard the name Charles Huntley Nelson, it was in a conversation with local artist Kojo Griffin, who had recently achieved a level of success most local artists only dream of. Griffin was telling me how he had been pursuing an education in applied arts, thinking commercial art was a good way to fulfill his creative passion and still pay the bills. But then he met Nelson, who convinced Griffin to abandon his commercial aspirations and pursue fine art. After that I heard Nelson’s name invoked time and again as someone who significantly influenced so many other local artists.
An assistant professor of art at Morehouse, Nelson was a conceptual artist who explored identity and technology in cerebral, multi-media projects. For the “Charles Nelson Project” in 2001, Nelson sought out people online who shared his name and painted their portraits, which became, he said in the artist statement, “self-portraits in a sense because of the commonality of the name and the understanding that there is a thin line of circumstance that has separated one Charles Nelson from another.”
Sadly, our Charles Nelson died July 30 following an illness.
Nelson left behind a work-in-progress, a trailer of a film that was to be part of an installation based on the Jean-Luc Godard film “Alphaville.” It is on view at The Contemporary through Aug. 16.
A public memorial will be held 5 p.m. Aug. 30 at The Contemporary.