Artist of the Week: Reginald Sylvester II
The new contemporary art world is one of black empowerment, black beauty, and black social issues. Globally renowned Brooklyn-based artist Reginald Sylvester II pulls from his subconscious to create abstract works of race, sexuality, religion, and spirituality. His work is a balance between abstraction and figuration; drawing inspiration from personal reflections and theories of expressionist artists, Sylvester II creates an identifiable style of distortion and dramatized deconstruction. When asked about the uprise of black art in the New York art scene, Sylvester II commented, “There is a Renaissance going on right now–black men and women making creative work at the same time and a lot of it is being critiqued and appreciated.” The young accomplished abstractionist transitioned from graphic designer to an influential contemporary artist achieving gallery representation by Maximillian William, exhibiting his paintings all over the world. And you can visit his works IRL, too; they’re currently being exhibited in the permanent collections of New York’s Lever House and Milan’s Fondazione Stelline.
Milk caught up with Reginald Sylvester II to learn more about his background, inspiration, and outlook on the modern day art world; check the full interview below.
When did you first “fall in love” with art? Tell us your story about breaking into the art world.
As a child the interest in art was always there. My father was an artist, graphic designer and illustrator. So the access to art materials where always there for me to work with. I attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco majoring in graphic design and fell in love with typography, package design, and branding. Later my passion for painting set in when I moved to NY. Learning about the “New York School” of artist and their ideologies on abstract painting heavily intrigued me. I found parallels in the philosophies of making these type of works with the definition and concept of faith. Through this I fell in love with the process of making abstract pictures.
And you moved to NY from Oakland, right?
I actually moved to New York from Los Angeles. I wasn’t in LA long at all. The city felt too comfortable and uninspiring. I took a trip to New York to see how I liked it and loved it. Once the opportunity presented itself for me to be able to live in NY I took it.
Max is your gallerist?
Yes. I met Max while living in NY shortly after showing at the SCOPE fair at Art Basel in Miami. Max and I did our first solo exhibition near Soho in Manhattan in 2015. The show was titled, “In Search of a Wonderful Place.” Following that exhibition he’s represented me and we’ve done shows, other exhibitions, and fairs around the world.
When you were first creating art did these discoveries influence your creative process?
Through the process of making as well as reading about artists I admired and their ideology of abstraction I found my own way to create my own abstract paintings. I create art at the mercy of the moment. How I’m feeling and what I’m going through in life at that moment play a huge part. Works can’t be forced nor plotted or planned they just happen. The more that I’m moved emotionally those are the moments where I create the most meaningful and best works.
From a technical standpoint building and taking away plays a huge part. I’ll create a work and feel the need to cover a certain portion or sometimes even the entire entire painting. Things arise from this and as always imperfections become beautiful occurrences.
How does your background in graphic design impact your work?
Through graphic design I learned about composition, balance, and having attention to detail. I feel I carry some of those same principles into my process of making paintings. Though graphic design is more structured where as painting is more freeing, a sense of balance should always be present.
What influenced you to make the transition from graphic design to fine arts?
Graphic design for me was so structured and it confined me in a lot of ways. On the business side of things you’re really being hired to solve visual problems for others. In fine art, an artist work is acquired based on his or her perspective and how it moves the individual who is interested. The artist is purely celebrated for how they see things. Also, in design it’s not personal where as in being an artist you are totally free to confront the things that you want whether internal or external.
Who are a few of your favorite contemporary artists?
Cy Twombly, Willem de Kooning, Jean Michel Basquiat, Kara Walker, Kerry James Marshall, Tracey Emin, Mark Bradford, and Richard Serra to name a few.
Which one of your favorite artists would you be most excited to see your artwork on the wall of their home?
I’d say between Kanye West, Miles Davis, and Frank Ocean because I’ve made most of my work listening to their music.
I thought you were going to say Barack Obama as your PC answer [Laughs]
I’d love for Barack Obama to have my work. He just isn’t the first person that comes to mind.
I respect that. There is an uprise of people of color in New York creating fine art and it being accepted as that. This is something prolific that should be documented.
You’re peeping it and it’s very true. There is a Renaissance going on right now–black men and women doing creative work at the same time and a lot of it is being critiqued and appreciated.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
So far it’s been showing at Fondazione Stelline in Milan which acquired a work from the exhibition into their permanent collection. The show was titled “The Rise and Fall of a People.” Also exhibiting at the Lever House in New York where they acquired the works from the show into their permanent collection, that show was titled “Premonition.”
What upcoming projects are you working on?
At the moment progressing my painting process as well as working with new mediums and materials. It’s all about investigating at this moment in time for me.
Images courtesy of Jess David Harris and Maximillian William
Stay tuned to Milk for more art happenings.