An international artist opens his first American museum exhibition at the Gantt
As a child growing up in Oakland, California, Reginald Sylvester II was interested in drawing and painting, but rarely visited an art gallery, let alone saw himself becoming an artist.
“We [Black people] likes to aspire to be things we see around us…. the 35-year-old told QCity Metro. “So I didn’t really have the foresight to see what the life of being an artist might be like because it just wasn’t around me.”
After years of graphic design and painting, Sylvester would eventually become a full-time artist and showcase his work around the world.
On Thursday, he will present “Painter’s Refuge: A Way of Life,” his first American museum exhibition at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture.
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The exhibition will include 16 original abstract paintings, centered on social reality and spirituality. The name comes from the use of military tarpaulins and tent shells as the canvas for each painting.
Sylvester said that although he had always loved painting and drawing, he hadn’t taken art seriously as a career path until high school, when a graphic designer came to speak to his class.
“I just thought it was cool that his foundation was designing, but he learned design in order to design something functional,” Sylvester said. “He looked like he was having a lot of fun doing it, so to me it sounded like something I could possibly do or eventually make a reality.”
Sylvester earned a degree in graphic design from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California. After graduating, he started working for Gap Inc. as an advertising designer for Old Navy.
“You are quite young. If I were you, I wouldn’t be stuck here. I would go explore,” Sylvester said, his boss told him.
While working for GAP, Sylvester often painted and freelanced in his spare time. His artistic director GAP noticed his work and encouraged him to pursue it full time.
In 2015, he moved to New York to start his new career. He got in touch with a local art dealer and rented an event space to host his first art exhibition. The show, Sylvester said, sold out.
Sylvester said his initial exhibit quickly opened the doors to other exhibits. After an art dealer saw his exhibition in New York, he had the opportunity to participate in his first international exhibition in Japan later that year.
The international connections he established at GAP helped him advance his work around the world. He went on to produce a number of museum exhibitions in cities such as Japan, Milan, Mexico City, Basil and Switzerland.
Sylvester said that while he hasn’t gone the traditional school or residency route like other artists, he is proud of his journey and all he has achieved so far.
“There are a lot of people from different backgrounds, different communities and different foundations coming to places in non-traditional ways,” he said. “I’m just another individual talking about it.”
If you are going to:
Date: May 5, 2022 – January 16, 2023
Weather: Museum opening hours
Place: Harvey B. Gantt Center