Saturday, August 01, 2009

Charles Huntley Nelson: Goodbye


I am deeply saddened to report that Atlanta-based artist and educator Charles Huntley Nelson passed away on Thursday, July 30 after a battle with stomach cancer. I hadn't been in contact with Charles for about a year and didn't know he was ill. He was a thoughtful, talented and enterprising artist--whose work often mined a unique path through afro-futurist terrains that was insistent on culling from a range of artistic forms and lineages, and wrestled variously with questions of masculinity, the maternal symbolic, paterfamilias legacies both aesthetic and cultural, pop culture and elements of the avant garde. Charles was a husband and father of two sons, and an assistant professor of art at Morehouse College. I don't believe Charles was even yet 40 years old. (note: Charles was born in 1970)

As artist/curator/writer/computational urbanist Cinque Hicks stated in writing of Nelson's passing: "Charles was integral to the afrofuturist art movement and an important part of many art communities." Charles was active up until his passing, with a scheduled artist talk for the day he passed in conjunction with the preview of his video and installation Alphaville based on the 1965 Jean Luc Goddard sci-fi/noir film Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, on exhibit at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center June 26 - August 16, 2009. Alphaville was scheduled for a full opening at the Contemporary in the Fall of 2010. There is no information at this time on the status of that exhibition. (Above right, from the series Invisible Man 2.01, watercolor, 2006; based on Nelson's interstitial conception of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952) and H.G. Wells' 1897 novella The Invisible Man, as well as the 1933 film adaptation of Well's story by the notably wry horror director James Whale, who had his own issues with otherness.)

I previously wrote about Nelson's work when I was in the Atlanta area, after first meeting him when we were in a group show in 2005. You can read about the 2006 Carbonist exhibition at Eyedrum here and here, and Nelson's 2006 show with New York-based artist Kalup Linzy at the Romo Gallery here. You can also read about Charles ethos regarding life as an Atlanta-based artist in a 2006 feature from Code Z that includes profiles of fellow Atlanta artists Kojo Griffin, Eric Mack, and Fahamu Pecou: "Points of Entry: Four Artists Reconsider Atlanta." His installation, Welcome to Atlanta, is also considered in scholar Kimberly Wallace-Sander's study, Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender and Southern Memory (University of Michigan Press, 2008). Nelson submitted the work in response to a call for images reflecting Atlanta for the city's renamed and renovated Hartsfield-Jackson Airport which claims the status of the world's busiest airport. The image is of an African American madonna figure, whose face carries a beneficent expression, holding a Caucasian baby who is suckling at her exposed breast. The image was rejected. Part of the story, of course, is that the airport had been renamed adding the name of Maynard Jackson (1938-2003), the first Black mayor of Atlanta, to that of William B. Hartsfield (1890-1971) Atlanta's longest serving mayor. Both Hartsfield and Jackson were responsible for creating and maintaining the airport's status as an a international aviation hub during their terms. Hartsfield was also known for having tagged his home as, "the city to busy to hate," as a way to continue to attract business and investments during the Civil Rights Movement. You can see the image and installation here.(Nelson, who was an appreciator of sound design, employs a sound design partly inspired by Brian Eno's Music for Airports).

At present the family has asked that no calls be made, but a trust will be set up for the family at a later date to which people will be able to contribute.

(photos: middle-right image from the video Mutropolis (2005)--a collaborative reworking (with Kevin Sipp) of the iconic imagery and foundational political binaries/paradigms of director Fritz Lang's classic dystopian-utopian [not the binaries to which I refer] socialist cinematic exploration, Metropolis (1927)--note the Haitian voudun symbols and the phenotype modeling and aesthetic decorating of Mutropolis's robot Maria/Mother. Lower-right images: stills from Nelson's current Alphaville exhibit)

Endnote:
• Posting on Nelson's passing from Counterforces (July 31, 2009)
• Note on Nelson's passing on the Atlanta-based visual arts blog Burnaway.org (July 31, 2009)
Funeral Service information from ARTlanta (August 4, 2009)

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