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In the studio with… Reginald Sylvester II

30 June 2021

Reginald Sylvester II is a New York-based painter and sculptor who trained as a graphic designer and began his career as a designer of streetwear. In his large-scale canvases in which figures seem to jostle with and half-emerge from more abstract brushwork, Sylvester draws upon influences as varied as the work of the Abstract Expressionists (and Willem de Kooning, in particular), the Bible and the world of fashion – while keeping a keen eye on how his work can reflect the world today. The artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States, at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina, is due to open in 2022; a show of recent work is currently at Maximillian William in London (until 14 August).

Where is your studio? 
Maspeth, NYC.

What do you like most about the space?
The scale and the light. The bit of seclusion I have. Very high ceilings as well.

What frustrates you about it?
Fortunately it’s allowed me to increase the scale and output of my work – so now what frustrates me is that I need more space.

Two Paths, One Covenant (2020), Reginald Sylvester II.

Two Paths, One Covenant (2020), Reginald Sylvester II. Photo: John Berens

Do you work alone?
I definitely choose to work in solitude. Being in the studio is a bit ceremonial, a therapy session. It’s needed time to one’s self.

How messy is your studio?
I feel I keep a pretty good balance between being organised and chaotic.

What’s the weirdest object in there?
Slave transport [shackles] from the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Which artistic tool could you least do without?

What’s the most well-thumbed book in your studio?
Jack Whitten: Notes from the Woodshed, for sure.

Last Laugh (2021), Reginald Sylvester II.

Last Laugh (2021), Reginald Sylvester II. Photo: Jack Hems

Do you cook in the studio?
Haha, absolutely not. If hungry I hit the bodega on the corner to grab a pastrami with swiss, lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard on roll. Chips and ginger ale to add.

What do you listen to while you’re working?
Jazz, rock, reggae, soul, R&B, and hip hop. A lot of Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, Bob Marley, Anita Baker, Mary J. Blige, and various kinds of rap. Nas, 2Pac, Kanye, Jay Elect, Jay-Z, Drake, Lil Wayne, etc.

Do you ever sleep in your studio?

Is anything (or anyone) banned from your studio?
One person thus far but most of all – disrespect.

‘Reginald Sylvester II: With the End in Mind’ is at Maximillian Willam, London, until 14 August.