Images courtesy Lever House

reginald sylvester II makes mega poignant art inspired by dreams and scriptures

As his new solo show, Premonition, opens at Lever House, New York, we talk faith, abstraction and tapping the subconscious with very good painter of paint, Reginald Sylvester II.

by Matthew Whitehouse; photos by Jesse David Harris
30 November 2017, 11:09am

Images courtesy Lever House

“It sounded spot on,” Brooklyn-based artist Reginald Sylvester II says about the title of his new solo exhibition, Premonition. We had hoped for, “I just had a strong feeling about it,” or “I had a hunch it would work,” but we’ll take it sounding spot on. Especially when the paintings are this good -- properly frank, dynamic works that touch on the spirit and soul of being a conscious human being (as well as a subconscious one).

“A lot of the work has been coming from dreams,” explains the North Carolina-born artist, as his show at Lever House, New York opens to the public. “I would make a painting and I wouldn’t have an understanding of the concept at first. Then, weeks later, I’d have a dream and the dream would be the concept of the work.”

There’s a real strong biblical feel to those concepts. Reginald grew up in the church, it’s a big part of his life, and you can properly sense that in all his references to scriptures and religion (as well as works titled Heaven’s Window and Celestial Minds Yield Knowledge). “I don’t want to say we don’t care,” the 30-year-old says, “but this generation doesn’t really pay too much attention to spirituality or religion. I think it’s a poignant thing to touch on in work because the spirit and the soul is definitely something we all share and is the essence of us anyway.”

Not that it’s a prerequisite for enjoying the stuff. Reginald’s works are open, he doesn’t try to direct that viewer to see anything in particular. In fact, he wants them to feel more than look: “It’s more the energy and the vibe in the painting and how that it resonates with an individual, as opposed to just seeing what’s in front of you,” as he puts it. “I feel like if I was asking something from a viewer that is what I would want.”

If you are directed to any one thing in the works, it would be the recurring use of grids and fences. Reginald was a graphic design student before transitioning to paint, and while a lot of what he does feels circular -- organic almost -- these same grids pop-up throughout; big bold vertical and horizontal lines of black breaking up the scribbled composition. “They really started to represent this almost jail-like feeling of being free and at the same time being imprisoned, you know what I mean?” he says. “They kind of resonate in the work that way.”

Ultimately though, what Reginald excels at is abstraction; a brilliant ability to tap into his subconscious and the multitude of possibilities that come with it. He describes a belief that plotting and planning work can remove you from the moment and, clichéd as it may sound, is a true believer in art as a combination of faith and life (“because you live life and you make mistakes and those mistakes save you.”)

“You don’t necessarily see what’s right in front of you but you trust in the moment, you trust the moves that you make, the marks that you make, and in the end, you’re in it for the end goal,” he explains. “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.”

Where that journey takes him next is anyone’s guess. When we talk, he’s excited to get back to the studio, excited to revisit the place he’s at currently and excited to take that to places he hasn’t yet been. “The work might change entirely on its own,” he suggests. “I definitely want to get into sculpture and other mediums that I haven’t worked with yet. Maybe tap into furniture. Taking different elements of my paintings and my work and bringing those into three dimensional spaces.” Call it a hunch, but something tells us it might just work.

Premonition is on show at Lever House in New York (390 Park Avenue) now.

new york exhibitions
reginald sylvester ii
lever house