Donovan Nelson

Donovan Nelson was born in Manchester, Jamaica, West Indies. He relocated to the U.S. in 1982 where he discovered that he had an ability to draw. Even in his early years of study, Donovan always gravitated towards subject matters of historical content. He continued to draw and paint throughout high school, where art was his major. After graduating from Overbrook High School, he began his study at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA. He majored in illustration just like his inspiration Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), a black African American painter that earned a reputation as a successful fine artist during a time when it was rare for a black American to pursue a career as a professional in such as field.

During his studies at the Philadelphia University of the Arts, he had the opportunity to meet Bo Bartlett, a fine artist whom he befriended. In 1995, he received a B.F.A. in Illustration and then continued his studies at the New York Academy of Art in New York. There he had the chance to study with established artists such as Martha Erlebacher, Vincent Desiderio, Jack Beal, Alfred Lesley, and Juan Cardenas. Furthermore, he became employed at Forum Gallery where he was able to study closely the works of exhibiting artist such as Max Webber, Raphael Soyer, Picasso, Odd Nerdrum, David Lavine, and William Beckman. After receiving an M.F.A. from the New York Academy, he became an employee of Midworks Inc, a mural company based in New York, from whom he received commissions to paint murals in Europe. This is such an uncanny comparison because Nelson sees how is career path has paralleled Tanner’s. “ I am aware that when Tanner was teaching at Clark University, he met Bishop Joseph L. Hartzell who was impressed with Tanner's artistic ability. The Bishop arranged an exhibition in Cincinnati, Ohio and not one piece sold,” shares Nelson. “However, the Bishop bought them all to help Tanner. With this money, Tanner left the United States for Europe to work in an atmosphere free of the racism that permeated American life during his time and in the fine art profession.”

Tanner was a superb draftsman and was often compared to Rembrandt in terms of technique and composition. Dramatic lighting and his use of glazing became unique elements of Tanner's style in his painting created between 1890 and 1905. Tanner’s Banjo Lesson (1893) is often considered a classic work of an ethnic subject, Tanner usually found his inspiration in landscapes and biblical themes. Nelson is inspired by Tanner’s work, and his portraits often incorporate many of Tanner’s techniques, yet in a manner that makes Nelson’s style his own. Donovan Nelson works out of his studio in the blossoming art scene that is Brooklyn, New York City. Showing his work at various galleries, art shows, competitions and symposia nationwide, Nelson’s originals also grace the walls of many private collectors locally and abroad. Nelson currently lives in Brooklyn and teaches at New York City College of Technology.