Brooklyn-based artist Reginald Sylvester II creates works that trigger provoking and often disconcerting topics such as race, sexuality, religion and spirituality through deconstructed, dramatized forms that oscillate 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 – a masterful demonstration of the artist’s signature combination of abstraction and figuration exploring his religious beliefs, sense of history, and identity.
Deeply personal yet universal in its scope, his works often display scenes of premonition, lust or torment – all laden with connotations reflecting the state of the world today, as well as the artist’s own sense of vertigo when facing his predictions for the future.
Sylvester II’s imagery lays bare the alchemy of the artist’s interior world, personal journey and parallel universe. Acting as a conduit to another realm of consciousness, Sylvester II engages both with his work and with the world at large through his personal faith.
“Heaven is something we can’t see, we can’t touch but we have faith that living our life a certain way we’re going to make it there and it’s the same way with painting. You start a painting, you go through this journey, this process and in the end you get to the result.”
James Fuentes is pleased to present a solo presentation of new works by Reginald Sylvester II. Motivated by a drive to dismantle and rebuild, over the past year and a half, Sylvester II has been occupied by a transition into abstract painting, evolving from his figurative works that came before. Through this process, Sylvester II spent time traveling to Bali, Japan, and then Mexico City, where he has kept a studio since. The qualities of music and light in this space have had a profound effect on his work, resulting in his series of “light paintings.” Unlike his artificially lit New York studio, his studio in Mexico City is filled only by abundant natural daylight. Its warmth emanates from the innermost layer of his paintings. Sylvester II also began using oil paint, departing from acrylic in favor of the generative possibilities in taking more time to gradually build up translucent layers of paint. The result is a sense of three-dimensionality and luminosity internal to the work. Bearing the time-based effects of process and light, this group of paintings embodies an archeology and alchemy of energy and environment.
'I feel that the unconscious or subconscious is a place of great depth, it’s not about making a picture, it’s about finding it.'
The inaugural exhibition at Maximillian William Gallery’s first permanent space also marked Sylvester II’s debut solo presentation in London.
Abandoning his more figurative compositions, which dominated his earlier work, this show displays Sylvester II’s gradual transition towards pure abstraction. Characterized by a constellation of expressive brushwork, Sylvester II delved into the universal truths and struggles that infiltrate the human psyche. The series, entitled ‘Soul vs Flesh,’ is anchored by scriptures of Galatians 5:16-21 KJV, which speaks of the battlefield and contradictory nature between the notions of Soul and Flesh – where the Soul signifies the pure and holy, while the Flesh indicates a gratification of passion and desire with the unwillingness to submit to God’s authority. Paradoxically, the soul is lodged deep within the flesh and one does not exist without the other.
“The paintings in ‘NEMESIS’ point to the fragility of the human existence, whose hyper-consciousness is provoked by its bad conscience. Transmitting raw emotion through his work, the artist offers insight into the relationship vis-à-vis the artist’s creative process and its cathartic role.”
The Lever House Art Collection presented Premonition, a solo exhibition by Brooklyn-based artist Reginald Sylvester II. The exhibition delves into Delving into contemporary themes of identity, youth culture, and references to biblical scriptures in a raw and lively manner, Sylvester II’s solo exhibition, ‘Premonition,’ was presented at The Lever House Art Collection.
The show’s colorful figurative paintings revealed themselves through the artist’s dreams as well as daily life — in moments of haste or inspiration, and reflected his struggle and torment in unveiling his true self. Sylvester II’s canvas and fence installation brought the rugged environment of downtown Brooklyn to the clear-cut space of Lever House, breaking the mold of the architecture whilst decontextualizing its identity. The exhibition introduced eight acrylic works on canvas, as well as a series of oil crayon sketches. Built up of innumerable layers of vibrant hues and pigments, the works displayed in this show illuminated the artist’s repertoire of energetic gestures, textural depth and chromatic radiance.
Surrounded in a barrage of arresting iconography, the works were connected through repetitive imagery such as the biblical references to chariots and the fences that point to feelings of imprisonment as well as the state of the world today. In ‘Premonition,’ Sylvester II’s paint application conjured a sense of organized chaos through violent yet controlled movement, which was meticulously rendered with rich layers of painterly gestures and complex arrangements. In this work, the artist evoked a dystopian future that left the viewer with a hostile foreboding and disheartening feeling of what is to come.
"Premonition exhibited the visual results of a journey looking inwards. Even the opening event itself presented a powerful social equilibrium that ties together art, fashion, and music."
“Becoming 30 is usually a coming-of-age for many. In a way, I believe Reginald had a premonition that this show was a rite of passage that would change the course of his career, and I don’t think people will need supernatural powers to see this.”
Lauded contemporary artist Nina Chanel Abney lent her curatorial abilities to a new group exhibition at the Jeffrey Deitch galleries in LA and New York, bringing together a group of artists in her circle, including Sylvester II, who examined culture and society through the figurative lens.
‘Punch’ focused on artists of Abney’s generation whose work raises compelling questions about the blurred lines of art today: Many of these artists grew up in the digital age, seeing firsthand how multiple streams of information from different media can penetrate consciousness. Using painting, sculpture, and photography as acts of defiance, these artists explored how they can create a hybrid practice without adhering to historical labels while portraying a society immersed in new media and pop culture.
Other participating artists included Devan Shimoyama, Gabriella Sanchez, Pat Phillips, Robert Nava, Cheyenne Julien, and Lucia Hierro, among others.
‘Surface Issues’ brought together a diverse group of contemporary artists, who in their singular manner, subtly articulated the power that artworks have in simultaneously informing and misleading us, as well as concealing a deeper understanding of a meaning lying just beneath the surface. The works in the exhibition gestured past the image surface and invited the viewer to examine and engage with the cultural and political references loaded in artworks that allow them to serve as metaphors of bigger concepts and issues.
Anticipating many of the ideas addressed in this exhibition, Reginald Sylvester II’s practice is unique in its ability to infiltrate instinctively the façade of physical form and appearance, while allowing other truths and realities to surface. His spontaneous and dynamic approach creates distinct textures, forms, and colors that reveal his own signature style through orchestrated expressionistic brushstrokes. Beyond the complexity of its formal harmony lies a multivalent interpretation of issues including black identity and the digital age that are increasingly unveiled once the surface level of his recognizable style is put aside.
For his first solo exhibition in Italy and European debut, Sylvester II’s work was shown at Milan’s historic institution, The Fondazione Stelline.
‘The Rise and Fall of a People’ captured a particularly important moment in the artist’s career. The introspective view of Sylvester II’s early works has gradually evolved into a study on the outside world, initiating a series of new reflections on how the personal sphere can interact with the collective body. Primarily focused on portraiture, these new works touched on Biblical themes to address the critical times Western society is currently facing, as the title testified.
The opening of the exhibition introduced Sylvester II’s first monograph publication with an essay by Michele Robecchi.
The artist’s first exhibition at Pace Prints featured densely packed abstractions jumbling bold colors, black outlines, child-like scribbles and disembodied cartoon limbs. In ‘Reaching for Heaven,” Sylvester II wrestled with the perpetual overstimulation of a digital lifestyle with the emotional urgency of the abstract expressionist canon. The exhibition questioned the idea of humanity in an age where identity is synonymous with ‘selfie.’
A meditation on the Zeitgeist of his generation, Sylvester II’s works were marked by their voraciousness for information, while simultaneously being overwhelmed by it. With the speed and automacy in which he works, the artist’s newest compositions moved away from the literal figure and towards their dissolution into the surrounding space.
“The work embodies figuration through abstraction. My energy is transferred onto the surface while the imagery is streamed from my subconscious, which I believe is the soul.”
His first exhibition in Japan following his sold-out debut in New York, ‘A Generation So Bright’ commented on the relationship between culture and virtual society. The exhibition included 15 new abstract, shaped paintings in Sylvester II’s unique style combining his painterly process with the ultramodern shaped figure, pulling clear references to a thundercloud, or a bolt of lightning. Sylvester purposefully assimilated feelings concerning movement and motion in order to create a continuum throughout the body of work, which also included a site-specific installation.
Demonstrating the influences of Pop and Abstract art in his approach through color and medium, Sylvester II used these classical techniques as agents for provoking the sense of a digital distortion through associations toward youthful emotions. ‘A Generation So Bright’ was a body of work, fragmented into various moving forms. The individual pieces were an offspring of a deeper consciousness the artist is trying to depict.
The artist’s debut solo show, ‘In Search of a Wonderful Place’ at the White Box Gallery, was a documentation of Sylvester II’s evolution and acted as a direct witness to a setting’s influence on an artist.
Highlighting his trademark cartoonish paintings, as well as hand-drawn illustrations, Sylvester II played with his trippy technicolor 90s childhood—smashing Bart into Homer, Arnold into Gerald—for a powerfully vibrant reimagination of the figures that raised him.
Every imaginative and jubilant painting sold before the doors even opened.
Typically recognized for his abstract and gestural paintings, Sylvester II showcased his first chair at R & Company’s ‘Chairs Beyond Right & Wrong,’ an exhibition curated by Raquel Cayre. Featuring almost 50 international artists and designers, the show explored the idea of a chair as an object, a product, a structure, a symbol, and a material, challenging the categorical divisions that often pigeonhole it into marginalized roles.
Sylvester II’s ‘Heel Chair,’ constructed in stainless steel, showcased the artist’s body of work extending beyond just paintings. Sylvester II refered to the chair as a ‘woman’s throne,’ as it was nicknamed after his mother; the polished chair took on an almost lifelike form with its smooth curves and rounded legs. The sleekness and simplicity of the piece are a juxtaposition to Sylvester II’s visceral paintings that depict raw emotion through bright colors and gestures.
"The polished chair takes on an almost life-like form with its smooth curves and rounded legs. The sleekness and simplicity of the piece juxtapose Sylvester II’s visceral paintings that depict raw emotion through bright colors and gestures."
“I could've stuck to a certain type of work for easy success or instant gratification, but what I want for the future is longevity. I want my work to be honest, real, and true to myself.”
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