Video by CBS This Morning
OVER THE WEEKEND, Kadir Nelson appeared on CBS This Morning. The Sunday television program profiled the illustrator whose work is familiar to many, while he remains relatively unknown. The latest edition of The New Yorker features Nelson’s take on “A Day at the Beach,” a powerful, very American image of a black father at the sun-drenched shore with his children.
Nelson spoke to Françoise Mouly, The New Yorker’s art director, about the summer double issue (July 11 and July 18, 2016).
“I grew up close to the shore, and I have always loved spending time at the beach,” he said. “When I was young it meant time with my dad, and now that I’m a father myself I relish the long summer days spent with my own children.”
“I grew up close to the shore, and I have always loved spending time at the beach. When I was young it meant time with my dad, and now that I’m a father myself I relish the long summer days spent with my own children.”
— Kadir Nelson, The New Yorker
Based in Los Angeles, Nelson told CBS that growing up he also spent a lot of time drawing. which his parents encouraged.
His early painting style was influenced by a television character. When Nelson was about five or six years old, seeing a black man on TV painting—Jimmie Walker who played James Evans Jr. (J.J.) on “Good Times”—was encouraging. Evans painted scenes of African American life featuring elongated figures. The paintings were actually the work of artist Ernie Barnes, who Nelson would eventually meet.
“As a young kid I didn’t really see a lot of representations of Africa Americans,” Nelson told CBS. “I felt like I had a self-appointed responsibility to tell that story. That children who would go to museums, or art galleries, or open their books and see images that look like them and be proud of those images.”
“I felt like I had a self-appointed responsibility to tell that story. That children who would go to museums, or art galleries, or open their books and see images that look like them and be proud of those images.”
— Kadir Nelson, CBS News
A graduate of Pratt Institute, Nelson has more than fulfilled his own mandate. His portrait of Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, hangs in the U.S. Capitol. He served as the lead conceptual artist for Stephen Spielberg’s film “Amistad.” He has illustrated a number of U.S. postage stamps, including images of tennis great Althea Gibson, author Ralph Ellison, and most recently basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain.
An award-winning illustrator of more than two dozen children’s books, he has also made his mark at The New Yorker. For the publication’s 90th anniversary last February, Nelson was one of nine illustrators commissioned to commemorate the milestone. He re-invented The New Yorker’s aristocratic icon as a contemporary black man complete with an iPhone. Earlier this year, the magazine celebrated the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture with a Nelson cover paying tribute to cultural figures from the Harlem Renaissance.
When Nelson Mandela died in 2013, the illustrator’s image of the former South African and freedom fighter appeared on the cover of The New Yorker.
WATCH Kadir Nelson discuss his New Yorker cover of Nelson Mandela with the BBC
“I wanted to make a simple and bold statement about Mandela and his life as a freedom fighter. The raised fist and the simple, stark palette reminded me of posters and anti-apartheid imagery of the nineteen-eighties. This painting is a tribute to the struggle for freedom from all forms of discrimination, and Nelson’s very prominent role as a leader in the anti-apartheid movement,” Nelson told the New Yorker.
“I wanted to make a simple and bold statement about Mandela and his life as a freedom fighter. The raised fist and the simple, stark palette reminded me of posters and anti-apartheid imagery of the nineteen-eighties.”
— Kadir Nelson, The New Yorker
During the interview with CBS, Nelson was working on a painting of the late Muhammad Ali.
“I like to do subjects that are spiritually strong and internally strong. because that is how I want to see myself,” Nelson said.
“I am proud that I get to do what I love everyday. To express myself creatively every day of the week. ..It’s the best gig there is.” CT
Kadir Nelson’s work is on view in the exhibition “The Picture Book Re-Imagined: The Children’s Book Legacy of Pratt Institute and Bank Street College of Education” at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery in New York (July 12-Sept. 15, 2016)
Covering a range of subjects including Harriet Tubman and Duke Ellington, Kadir Nelson’s children’s books have been honored with Caldecott and Coretta Scott King awards, and he has collaborated with the likes of Debbie Allen, Spike Lee, and Will Smith.
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