Episode 22: Remembering Charles

meandcharlesMy friend and fellow artist Charles Huntley Nelson, Jr. died on July 30th. Charles was one of the first artists I met and could go to who was always consistently about his work. I met him when I was a senior in college. He was an adjunct professor teaching painting. Charles stood out for two very poignant reasons; he was one of about 4 professors at the Atlanta College of Art who was black. The second reason was he was barely much older than me. As I soon learned, Charles had recently come to Atlanta after having received his MFA from Howard University and immediately began teaching. He may have been 25 or 26 at the time, so that should give you a clue about the kind of person he was. From the moment I met him he was always full of advice and guidance and always willing to offer his expertise and wisdom.

My first show out of college happened in part due to Charles’s influence. He introduced me to his succesor as artist-in-residence at the Hammonds House Museum which led to my inclusion in a group show at the Hammonds House. Throughout my career, Charles has been a fixture in the Atlanta art scene. We’ve worked together on projects, served together on committees, exhibited together and shared our concerns about life, our marriages and our children.

Today I attended Charles’s funeral. I sat in a room filled wall-to-wall with members of Atlanta’s art community, all still in disbelief that Charles and his opinions, jokes and presence will never again greet us at openings and art events. Our friend Karen described the mood as “surreal”.

Those of you closest to me know that I haven’t cried since 1987 but in my heart I am bawling. It probably doesnt help that even as I write this that Donnie McClurkin is on repeat reminding me that even saints fall down. I keep trying to shake off this sadness. I keep trying to ward off my fears about my sudden realization to the fragility of life. I keep thinking about how his wife and two young sons will be tomorrow. I can’t fight my feelings of inadequacy – wishing there was something more I could do, wishing I had spent more time getting to know Charles. The grief is a bit overwhelming.

I grew up going to church every Sunday. I sang in the choirs, delivered the church announcements during Sunday service. I was on the youth council and participated in a myriad of church related events. Of all my church experiences one of my most memorable is studying the story of Job. In fact, the story of Job is one of the very few things about church that I still refer to. During the service today, the pastor took his cues from the story of Job (which really touched a nerve) and spoke about how despite the trials and trauma which afflicted Job, he never gave up on God, in fact he downright refused to. Job accepted that though the way seemed bleak, though he was wrought with illness, overcome with grief, broken and forsaken, he knew that God had something greater for him. He took everything that came at him with humility and grace, holding steadfast to his faith, to hope. Job’s story resonated in me. I’ve never forgotten his story and have always tried to walk knowing that trials come to us all. That we are all tested from time to time and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Charles passing is a major blow to the arts community in Atlanta. He will be sorely missed. But he has left us with a legacy that can never be duplicated. His unwavering dedication to this community and his generosity of spirit is an example for all of us here to follow. We must remember that in giving, we will always get something greater, that when we build up those around us we in turn make ourselves stronger and better. And though Charles gave and gave never asked me for anything I want to be sure he knows that I will give everything I got, just like he did.

Thanks Charles.
Rest well brother.

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About neopopstar

Fahamu Pecou (b. 1975) is an American painter based in Atlanta, Georgia whose intention is to comment on contemporary and hip-hop culture while simultaneously subverting it to include his ideas on fine art. In 2005, along with several of Atlanta's premier contemporary artists, Pecou created history at Atlanta's High Museum of Art with the exhibition Arts Beats Lyrics. Since 2005 Fahamu has been featured in several solo and group exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad. His work has been reviewed and featured in numerous publications including Harper's Magazine, NY Arts Magazine, Mass Appeal Magazine, The Fader Magazine, Atlanta Peach Magazine, NY Arts Magazine as well as on the cover of Artlies Magazine. In 2007 Atlanta's Creative Loafing named him Critic's Choice for Best Emerging Artist. He was also awarded a Best in Show Award for the 2007 Atlanta Biennial. In 2008 Pecou was awarded a residency at the Caversham Centre in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, additionally, Pecou's work was included in DEFINITION: The Art and Design of Hip Hop, an anthology of urban arts written by famed graffiti artist and designer Cey Adams. View all posts by neopopstar

4 responses to “Episode 22: Remembering Charles

  • Myra

    I too attend that same funeral today. I didn’t know Charles personally, but work with his wife Tonia. I was so inspired by the thoughtful descriptions of him that I went searching for more about him when I got home. What an inspiring person – I’m sorry I didn’t meet him when I had the chance. I’m glad you did, and that his memory will live on with with those who knew him.

  • Christina

    “And though Charles gave and gave never asked me for anything I want to be sure he knows that I will give everything I got, just like he did.”

    Fahamu, your words are so touching and really resonate with me. Charles was so focused yet unassuming, both very admirable qualities. He was always on top of everything going on and I loved talking to him at art events. My favorite memory is that whenever I asked him “so what are you up to, Charles?” his face would light up, as though he was so excited and honored to be asked. Mind you, he never boasted and oversold himself, yet I always knew he would have a new project underway and I admired how he was constantly advancing himself – through his art work and in his teaching profession. He took so many things on and was so successful at all of them. What a life, what a legacy… and I agree, it is a struggle to come to grips with this great loss. Thank you for your moving words, Fahamu.

  • dumi

    Wow, so sad to learn this! I took painting with Charles at Spelman in the late 90s and considered him one of the best and coolest profs I had. His dedication to the craft and sense of humor/fuck all this attitude really endeared me to him. I periodically would check in with him and update him on my path and check in on him on his, even though I hadn’t continued to produce visual art at the center of my path. He was truly a man that I will remember and I am glad to see that you are continuing his legacy on and will do my part to pass it on as well. Thanks for posting this man, I would have been none the wiser. Rest in Power Charles!!!!

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