Donovan Nelson

The Students: A Study of Color and Light works by Donovan Nelson.


Completed 17 years ago, over a period of 5 days, the 35 portraits in this series were created from life at the very beginning of Donovan Nelson’s teaching career. With the exception of the one self-portrait, the subjects are Nelson’s former students, and the setting is a high school classroom in the East New York section of Brooklyn, New York.


The series was first conceived as a demonstration for an assignment that required each student to create his or her own portrait.  Nelson decided to utilized portraiture as a teaching mechanism, for his students and himself, to resolve the difficulties in properly rendering color and light from direct observation.


The resulting works raise many questions including, how might the ease or difficultly of access to a particular teaching style affect how young people learn, and how can access to art change our perception of ourselves?  Similar to the Migration of the Negro series by Jacob Lawrence and Chris Ofili’s Afro Muses, this series was created at a pivotal moment in Nelson’s career and marks the evolution of his studio practice.

Student #25


Student #16

Student #5


Student #21

Student #4


Student #19

Donovan Nelson was born in Manchester, Jamaica, WI and in 1982, he relocated to the U.S.  In 1995, Nelson

received a B.F.A in illustration from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA.  Additionally, he studied portraiture and figure painting at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Nelson received an M.F.A. from the New York Academy where he studied with Martha Erlebacher, Vincent Desiderio, Jack Beal, Alfred Lesley, and Juan Cardenas.


Nelson lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.



1996 - M.F.A.(painting) New York Academy of Art, New York 
1990-1994 -B.F.A. (Illustration) The University of the Arts, Philadelphia
1992-1994 - Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia
1999-2003 - The Art Students League of New York

2004 - Valentine New York, Art award for oil painting
1998, 1999, 2000 - Plainfield Art Fair, 1st place drawing and painting
1995 - New York Academy of Art, (scholarship)
1994 - University of the Arts, Purchase Award
1993, 1992 - Society of Illustrators, Annual Scholarship Competition


2017 - The Charles Evans Inniss Memorial Library at Medgar Evers College, New York

2015 - Welancora Gallery, New York
2012 - Art Horizon’s LeRoy Neiman, New York
2012 - Dorsey Art Gallery, New York
2011 - NY State Building, New York
2011 - The Art Gallery, New York
2010 - Clover Art Gallery, New York
2010 - Medgar Evers College Gallery, New York
2006 - Mocada Museum, New York
2005 - York College-Art Show, New York
2003 - Off the Main – Art Show, New York
2003 - Vanderbilt Gallery, New York
2003 - National Black Fine Arts Show, New York
2003 - Moon Child Fine Arts, New York
2002 - Rongio Gallery, New York
2002 - Fulton Art Fair, New York
2002 - Welancora Gallery, New York
2002 - Manhattan Borough President’s Office, New York
2001 - Salena Gallery, New York
2001 - Fulton Art Fair, New York
2001 - Plainfield Art Fair, New Jersey
2000 - Watchung Art Center Gallery, New Jersey
1998 - The African American Art Museum, New York
1997 - Lewis Gallery, New York
1997 - Penn Tower Hotel, Pennsylvania
1996 - M.F.A Exhibition, New York Academy of Art, New York
1994 - Exhibition, Illustration Department, University of the Arts, Pennsylvania
1993 - West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance Biannual, Pennsylvania
1990 - The Gallery at APF, Pennsylvania
1990 - Axiom Gallery, Pennsylvania
1989 - St. Joseph University, Pennsylvania


2011 - Present, Teacher, Arts Horizons, New York
2007 - Present, Professor, New York City College of Technology
2007 - Present, Teacher, The Children’s Arts Carnival, New York
2006 - Teacher, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, New York
2005 - Curator, The Dedicators, Inc. Annual Celebration of Black Artists, New York
2005 - Mural Project, New York City Housing Authority, New York
2003 - Commissioned Painting, Medgar Evers 50th Anniversary Celebration, New York
2003 - Mural Project, The Weeksville Society, New York
2003 - Commissioned Painting, NYS Attorney General Oliver Koppell, State Capital Building, New York
2003 - Commissioned Painting, Public and Private, New York
2002 - Featured, Brooklyn Cable Television, New York
2002 - Mural Project, Amazon Café, New York
1998-2003 - Art Teacher, Thomas Jefferson H.S., New York
1998 - Commissioned Artwork for CD Cover, Universal Records, New York
1997 - Muralist, Modeworks Inc., New York
1996 - Gallery Assistant, Forum Gallery, New York
1994 - Designer, Manyunk Theater, Pennsylvania
1994- Tutor (Painting and Drawing), University of the Arts, Pennsylvania


Brooklyn Borough Hall, New York
Emmanuel Baptist Church, New York
Medgar Evers College, New York
New York City Housing Authority, New York
October Gallery, Pennsylvania
St. Paul Community Baptist Church, New York
New York State Capital Building, New York
The Greater Allen Cathedral, New York
Wilberforce College, Ohio


© 2020 Valentine Museum of Art

Privacy policy