Rolf Nelson was born in Brooklyn in 1935 to Norwegian immigrant parents, and grew up in New York. In the late 1950s, he lived on Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan, and got to know fellow residents such as Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and Robert Indiana, and through them, the contemporary art scene. He was hired by the Martha Jackson Gallery, where he worked with Allan Kaprow and Claes Oldenburg. He moved to Los Angeles in 1962 to open a branch of the San Francisco-based Dilexi Gallery. Within a year, the outpost folded, and Nelson set up his own gallery, which became an important venue for both local and international artists, including Llyn Foulkes, Robert Watts, Alison Knowles, George Herms, Phillip Hefferton, H.C. Westermann, Ed Bereal, Joe Goode, Doug Wheeler, Judy Gerowitz, Jess, Lloyd Hamrol, Irving Petlin, Robert Indiana, and Iain Baxter. Before closing his space and moving back to New York, Nelson held a single-painting exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Sky Above Clouds IV (1966), now at the Art Institute of Chicago. His second venue subsequently became the Mizuno Gallery.