He’s the award-winning artist, best-selling author and culture-curating creative behind the stunning key art for “Black-ish” Season 7 that immortalizes the Johnson family in his beautifully expressive style.
His name is Kadir Nelson and he’s most prolific illustrator of his era who celebrates Blackness, uplifts movements and inspires millions with the stroke of his brush.
Blessed with transcendent talent that shines through on his countless iconic pieces, he’s a true visionary who took a break from (literally) changing the world to chat with us about everything from his “Black-ish” collab to Drake’s classic “Nothing Was The Same” cover.
Tell us how your collaboration with “Black-ish” for “BLACKISH TEA” came together.
Well, you know, the folks at “Black-ish” contacted us and thought it was a great idea for me to do the art for the upcoming season, so, you know, they gave me free rein to create what I wanted to in a very short timetable. I looked at a lot of the art from the past seasons, which all of it was photography, and I studied those and saw that a lot of the art was centered around a family activity.
This visual language was very dark colors set against very bright colors. Primary and secondary colors, so I thought, well, I have to understand what they’re doing. And I thought, what what would the Johnson family be doing during COVID?
So I looked around to see what people were doing, what families were doing during during COVID, during quarantine.
And one thing was that really stuck out was having a Tea Party, and it reminded me of that very popular social media meme. I’m just going to sip my tea and mind my business. Right. And I thought, well, this is how an African-American family react to this bizarro world we’re living in this rollercoaster of a year.
They’d have something to say. They might say it. But then you sit back and say, well, that’s none of my business. We’re just going to sit out. So I thought that was a really great idea, a metaphor for what the Johnson family would be doing at this moment in history.
You touched on what we’re going through right now. What would you say has inspired you through this time? Have you been more productive? Have you been more willing to take chances? How has Kadir grown the last couple of months?
You know, I think I’ve been more productive as a result of quarantining, you know, and you know what we’re faced with as artists.
Our responsibility is to express the innermost feelings, thoughts, fears, dreams and aspirations of people around the world.
So, I thought, ‘well, I’m I’m an artist. What what am I going to do as an artist? How can I contribute to moving us forward?’
And I realized that there have been many people in our history who have taken on the responsibility in times, in difficult, challenging times to speak and or protest. And one of the ways that I can do that is from from my easel.
So there’s no more important time than now for artists to speak out and express what we’re going through and how we’re going to to get through it.
There was, you know, the George Floyd cover for The New Yorker, which was very important, was the very important thing to say. And then, of course, there were the the protests with the Rolling Stone cover and then now the key art. So it’s kind of a progression of what we have been experiencing as people and as African-American families.
You’re a freelancer/independent contractor–what would you say about guiding your own career as someone who’s their own brand?
You know, it’s a great privilege. I guess I’m a mercenary of sorts for art, you know. Fortunately, I have a great partner to to work with.
I like being at the helm of the ship instead of having an employer. I realized very early on that I was not a very good employee because it wasn’t fun for me to be an employee. I’m able to have a voice and an identity that is unique to me and and my story as an artist. We get to tell our stories. So I’ve enjoyed the privilege of doing that for the most of my career.
What would you say to the upcoming generation of artists who may not get support from their own families, financially or artistically–what advice would you give them?
You know, I would say that if you really love it and really want to do it, you have one shot at this. If you’re going to spend your time doing something, spend it doing something that you really love doing. You’re the captain of your own ship, so you’re going to have to live your life. Why not live doing something that you really love doing?
I mean, there are plenty of people who have whose stories. I used to do this, you know, when I was a kid, but now I don’t do it anymore because I have to get a real job or life gets in the way or all of that, you know. But I think it’s important to focus on something that’s going to fulfill you as a as a human being, as a creative person, whether it be painting a picture or creating a garden or writing a book or, you know, whatever it is that fills you up and it makes you feel. Important and meaningful and happy. That’s what you should be spending your time doing.
And while I have you, I have to ask about the iconic album cover you did for Drake’s “Nothing Was The Same” album. Do you feel like you achieved what you set out to achieve?
You know, I say specifically for that album Drake wanted something that was going to make his album cover look iconic, like a classic piece. And there’s no better way to do that than with a classic oil painting. And it’s the same thing that the folks at Black-ish wanted. They wanted a classic piece to give this staple African-American family an iconic image they’ve never had before.
So, it’s like a classic album cover that you might have seen for Miles Davis or Marvin Gaye or Michael Jackson who would use memorable art on their album covers. And that’s what Drake wanted for this image.”
And last question, when it’s all said and done, when you look back on your work, what do you want it to say?
You know, I just want my work to inspire people, to remind them of their best selves and for people who look into my work, to experience the love that I had for my craft and for the subject. I want them to feel love when they look at my artwork and feel heroic and inspired. That’s the goal of my work.
So if one person feels that way hen they look at my work, I’ve been successful. And when I look at it, I feel the way that I want to feel, then I’ve achieved my goal.
“Black-ish” airs every Wednesday on ABC at 9/8 pm. To support Kadir’s amazing artwork, click here.