The Students: Donovan Nelson

6 July - 31 December 2017

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.