Reginald Sylvester II Paints with Purpose in a New Show at Lever House
Jacksonville-born Reginald Sylvester II blends figuration and abstraction in dynamic large-scale canvases that fuse pleasure and purpose. GARAGE had a few questions for the artist as he took a break from installing a new show at Lever House.
Reginald Sylvester II. Photo by Jesse David Harris
GARAGE: Figurative and abstract painting are parallel practices that ebb, flow, and intersect, but which are always with us in some form. Where do you position yourself in those traditions? And are there any other contemporary painters with whom you feel a particular affinity?
I've always tried to find my own balance between the two. When trying to understand your existence between both worlds you can easily drift fully to either side. It's important that the work speaks to what great abstract painting is, but at the same time can resonate figuratively to clue in the viewer. This place is more than just a visual thing. It's also about purpose.
What's the relationship between your work, which makes extensive use of painterly gesture, and the world of digital image making?
I feel the relation lies in how I choose to use color. My palette makes me think of when I use Illustrator to choose colors for graphics. Other than that, the processes for me are totally different. I'm allowed more freedom when making paintings than when creating a digital image.
How do the biblical references in your work function? And the recurring imagery of fences? Is the work a commentary on the state of the world as it is now, or as it will be? And do you think it asks any particular questions or make any particular demands of the viewer?
The references function as visual language within the work. God is a huge part of my life so it's nearly impossible for me to create without referencing his word. The repetitive grid-like imagery relates to digital culture but on a deeper note to the feeling of entrapment. The feeling of truly being free versus not being free is a reoccurring conversation within myself. This body of work definitely speaks on the state of the world as we know it. Specifically speaking to the present and the future, and to how the scriptures relate to that. The work doesn't ask anything in particular of the viewer. To get a real sense of the depth in each work, you should feel them just as much as look at them. Feel with your eyes, see with your heart and mind.
How does the installation component of the exhibition at Lever House work with or against the architecture of the interior?
The space is both modern and simple. Fencing is a very industrial concept resonating in street scenarios. We've managed to make this fencing speak to the space in both ways, modernizing it by having it suspended from the ceiling while respecting the space's simplicity with the amount we used. The two complement each other very well. I love how masculine it feels as well.
You've discussed the images you use as having been projected from your unconscious, a site of "untainted truth." Does this align you with, say, the Surrealists, or other artists for whom dream states have been explicitly significant? Does an emphasis on the spiritual and perhaps the irrational place you in opposition to more conceptually or theoretically driven forms of art?
The only alignment is that these works do stream from my unconscious. Dreams only "align" when giving context to the paintings or when paintings give context to dreams. I do feel my approach is very different than the Surrealists' due to the processes by which I paint. I don't feel that this positions me in either camp, though. The spiritual is very real; there's nothing conceptual or theoretical about it. These are soul-driven works.
As told to Michael Wilson
Reginald Sylvester II: Premonition is on view at The Lever House Art Collection, New York, from October 19, 2017, to February 28, 2018.