By MIKE McCOMBS
Among the 150 or so people who crowded around Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang on his campaign stop Thursday, Aug. 15 in Beaufort was a Lowcountry artist who made waves earlier this year with a painting of a different political figure.
Ment Nelson, a Beaufort-born, Hampton County-based artist, stopped by to hear what Yang had to say and to present him with a painting he finished of the candidate only a short time earlier in the day.
“I’ve been following him on the internet. I saw him on The Breakfast Club. I saw him on the Joe Rogan podcast,” Nelson said. “He’s one of the only candidates who’s addressing AI, things like that. So I was just interested in that. And then, not too many people come to this area.
“I grew up here and lived here all my life, so I just like to take part in the culture and what’s going on.”
Nelson has also attended campaign rallies this year for Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders, among others.
The 30-year-old artist’s legal first name is Clementia. He was named after a family friend, the Rev. Clementia Pinckney, who was killed by a white supremacist in 2015 in a mass shooting at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Nelson dropped out of Francis Marion University a decade ago but has made a name for himself as a painter – one that’s plugged into what’s going on through social media (@mentnelson on Twitter) and, in his words, tries to shine a light on his state and his culture.
His motto? “I make it cool to be from South Carolina.”
After moving home with family in Varnville, he has seen his career grow. Last year, his work began to be featured in a traveling exhibit presented by the Smithsonian.
But it was earlier this year when many who hadn’t seen Nelson’s art got their first taste.
Inspired by Kanye West’s 2018 visit with Donald Trump at the White House – Make America Great Again hat and all – Nelson painted a watercolor of the pair complete with a smooch mark square on Trump’s cheek.
Nelson priced the painting, entitled “Kissin’ Up,” at $1 million, garnering him coverage on television and in newspapers across the country.
The buzz is what Nelson was after.
“It’s mainly just talk, still. I haven’t gotten any inquiries,” Nelson said. “But it’s been helping me get my work out a lot more. Because it doesn’t really matter whether it sells or not – though it’d be really great if it did sell. For me it was just showing the people in my community you can price something at $1 million and with the technology, you never know where that story can travel to. My proof is having publications from all over the nation writing about it.”
The painting remains for sale on Nelson’s website – mentnelson.com – among other original pieces and prints, most selling for between $25 and $40.
For the most part, even though his work sometimes takes a political tone, Nelson says the response has been positive.
“It’s mostly supportive, about 95 percent supportive, but you’re always going to have negative blowback, especially since I started doing political work,” he said. “You’re staring to get people from both sides starting to have something to say about it.
“It’s something I’m prepared for, though. It comes with the territory. You’re always going to have controversy, people saying things.”