Rising Painter Reginald Sylvester II Finds Refuge in Abstraction

Earlier this year, he was awarded the Northern Trust Purchase Prize at EXPO Chicago, which saw Pérez Art Museum Miami acquire his work Four Corners (2021). That work is currently featured in Sylvester’s first solo museum exhibition, “Painter’s Refuge: A Way of Life,” at North Carolina’s Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture. This exhibition marks a pivot in the artist’s developing abstract practice: He turns away from gestural markmaking to explore materials that broaden the bounds of abstraction.

Through this work, Sylvester is expressing an evolving thought and exploring the plentiful possibilities of a developing artistic practice. “‘Nemesis’ was super important to me because it was my foot into the door of abstraction,” Sylvester said. With this work, Sylvester does what all great abstractionists do: He draws you in visually, only to seize you cerebrally with myriad thoughts, ideas, and questions.

“Nemesis,” like much of Sylvester’s work, is bound to Christian scripture. In these paintings, he cites a passage in the Book of Galatians that speaks of the battle between the soul and the flesh. The soul symbolizes purity and sanctity, while the flesh represents the indulgence of passion and desire; the latter, a revolt against God’s will. The two entities are at war, yet coexist within the human being. “The show is called ‘Nemesis’ because it was a call back to my internal struggles, flesh-wise and spiritual-wise,” Sylvester said.

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