Kings of The Jungle Gym
This autobiographical painting is set in the late 1970s, during the artist's childhood. The artist's practice is rooted in collage, and he creates his compositions on wood surfaces—employing painted paper, recycled materials, wire, fabric and more. Seemingly disparate individual elements come together into a cohesive scene depicting the artist's youth; layer upon layer of lived experience challenge the dominant narratives perpetuated about the Black American experience. Nesbitt's works are full of joy, with bold primary colors that allude to the innocence of youth. This work evokes storybook pictures—a rare possession in the impoverished community the artist grew up in. Yet this composition emanates a continuing fondness for the artist's childhood. This work entrances all who gaze upon them with an aura of nostalgia, unity and hope. The artist does not merely construct elegant collages—he builds community.
About this work, Nesbitt says: "Jungle gyms were really large in the late '70s but that didn’t deter any of us kids from trying to balance on the top rails. We pulled and climbed our way to the top only to be either terrified of the height or to bravely try to balance ourselves—no hands—at the very top! I don’t remember anyone ever being seriously hurt but there were lots of scrapes and bumps from kids falling or accidentally kicking each other while climbing the jungle gyms. Playing was often full of risks and injury back then but the jungle gyms were just too much fun to avoid playing on!"
Melvin Nesbitt Jr.’s storytelling and visual arts practice is a poignant examination of race and poverty in contemporary society. In collage and mixed media works, the artist orchestrates cohesive scenes of his youth from bold saturated primary colors and seemingly disparate individual elements—including painted paper, wire and fabric. By portraying the joyful innocence of his childhood, Nesbitt Jr.’s work reconceivies the Black American experience.
Melvin Nesbitt Jr. was born in South Carolina. The artist grew up in the 1980s in a Spartanburg housing project, an experience that influences his artistic practice.
Nesbitt’s work has an extensive exhibition history at institutions, including at the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art (MOCADA) in Brooklyn, New York.
Nesbitt is an Art Bank grantee and a recent fellow of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
Nesbitt lives and works in Washington, DC.