Love is in the air, and around a third of Americans have been fully vaccinated. For the first time in a long while, people are tapping into their senses for proximity, touch, intimacy. The New Yorker recently talked to the artist Kadir Nelson about his portrait of a young couple locked in embrace.
Your characters seem to emerge through a combination of observation and inspiration. Is people-watching a part of your process?
I think that people-watching comes with the job of being an artist. It certainly inspired this painting. I saw a young couple embracing each other downtown, shortly before the start of the pandemic. Such a display of public affection was a common sight then, but it holds much greater significance after more than a year of isolation.
You capture an early-spring energy here that feels very New York. Living in the Los Angeles area, do you miss the changing of the seasons?
My first spring as a young adult in Brooklyn was magical, especially because I’d spent the previous decade in Southern California, where the changing of the seasons is much more subtle. It seemed like the whole city had awakened from a long sleep. The snow had finally melted away, flowers bloomed, people were outdoors, and music blared from apartment windows. Everyone seemed happier. We don’t get that experience as much in SoCal.
You’re currently painting a series for children’s books. Is your approach to a series different from your approach to conceptualizing a single image?
I love creating stand-alone images; the whole story can be told at once. Working on a series can be more challenging, because I have to maintain a consistent look for the whole while varying palette and composition from page to page. But every painting I make, whether it’s stand-alone or part of a series, tells a story. This image tries to capture a significant experience while we’re living through a pandemic, one that will hopefully inspire us not to take human connection for granted.