Progression of an Artist: Reginald Sylvester II

Progression of an Artist: Reginald Sylvester II

Alex Pettyfer conducts a studio visit with artist on the rise Reginald Sylvester II.

Alex Pettyfer conducts a studio visit with artist on the rise Reginald Sylvester II.

Text: Alex Pettyfer

This article originally appeared in VMAN38, on newsstands now. Order your copy here.

ALEX PETTYFER: Did you always want to be a professional artist?

REGINALD SYLVESTER II: Becoming a professional artist never really crossed my mind at a young age. Drawing things was just something I was great at. My father was an artist, so he always kept materials around for me to work with. In college, I studied graphic design, as did he. I took it a bit further by freelancing and working in the corporate world. I got an opportunity to show at SCOPE at Art Basel in Miami in 2013. From then on, I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Some time passed and I met Maximillian William, who is still my gallerist to this day. He was actually my very first studio visit. From there, we built a strong relationship, and he put on my first solo show in 2015, which took place in New York and was called "In Search of a Wonderful Place." Shortly after, I had a private display in London titled "Boy and Girl." From there, I did a solo show in Tokyo and another in NYC with Pace Prints. I also displayed with Pace Prints at Art Basel in Switzerland earlier this year. Most recently, I had a solo exhibition at Fondazione Stelline in Milan called "The Rise and Fall of a People" as well as a group show at Leila Heller Gallery in Dubai, "Surface Issues." that show was curated by Maximillian and included works by Magda Skupinska and Coco Capitán.

AP: What's your response to people saying your work is similar to Basquiat's?

RS: Since I'm an artist of color and I paint in the vein of abstraction and figuration, people like to compare me to him. Nonetheless, I feel like if you're making great work, you're also going to speak to the greats. I am inspired by how automatic Jean-Michel was. He came from the streets and so did I. So, I feel that in my energy, I speak to him and his work. To be compared to him is nothing less than an honor, really. I'm inspired by the artists of the New York School like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Cy Twombly: They were all great abstractionists.

AP: Hopefully you're around when the work gets sold for millions [laughs]. You have a lot of work!

RS: I'm really obsessed with progression. I want to push myself to limits I haven't pushed myself to before. That's why I spend a lot of time in the studio—I live there. I'll do 20 or 30 paintings before I even know what's really good. I found my voice, and now I'm trying to understand this voice. One thing that I've learned from this journey is patience. 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. Some people ask me, "Why did your style change? Are you trying to impress the art world?" No, I'm trying to push my own boundaries.

AP: Some advice my folks gave me that I actually listen to is that sometimes you have to fling the arrow back before it springs forward: You have to fail multiple times.

RS: I'm from East Oakland, and it's not the best place. I didn't have examples of artists in front of me. You go through rough ties, but you learn from it to move forward and do the next thing. It's very volatile to risk it all. I think life is about pushing your boundaries. With great risk comes great reward, as the saying goes.

AP: What other mediums are you interested in?

RS: I would play with architecture—I want to build some shit. I also want to travel somewhere super remote and put myself in an uncomfortable position in order to inspire my creativity. I could've chosen the life of just being a graphic designer and I would've done great, but I thought, this isn't gonna fulfill me. I don't want to get pigeonholed in just one thing.

Credits: IMAGE BY ALEX PETTYFER

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