This autobiographical painting is set in the 1980s, 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: "The favorite place to visit in my hometown was always Spartanburg County Public Library! A Black man drove the Book Mobile which visited our neighborhood once a month. He also worked in the library shelving books and helping patrons find books. I can’t remember his name but 'The Library Man' is what some of us called him. When they were transitioning the card catalogue to digital, he helped me learn to use the computers. Once he told me that I should take a typing class when I get to high school because ‘computers are going to take over!' Whenever I had questions, I’d look for him first."
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.