Reginald Sylvester II
— The Arts Club London

Installation view: Reginald Sylvester II: Feelin’ Blue, The Arts Club, London. Image: Kate Elliot.


Installation view: Reginald Sylvester II: Feelin’ Blue, The Arts Club, London. Image: Kate Elliot.

In March 2022, The Arts Club hosted an exhibition of paintings by American artist Reginald Sylvester II: Feelin’ Blue. A rising star in international contemporary art, Sylvester’s radical abstract works recall such artists as Elaine de Kooning and Joan Mitchell, yet with a frenetic energy and singular painterly vocabulary that place him wholly in the present.

Sylvester’s works are informed by a range of experiences and research that belie his young age. His sensibility draws from the media savvy gained from his time as a graphic designer, a close knowledge of contemporary fashion, and his historical grounding in Abstract Expressionist practices. Sylvester conceptualizes painting as a matter of finding, rather than spontaneously generating images, working in the realms which oscillate between material and spiritual. His surfaces are a multi-layered sum of painting, each layer offering a story, a philosophy and a connection to parts of Sylvester’s biography, whilst also inviting the viewer to experience the paintings through their own subjective viewpoint.

Focalising Sylvester’s recent blue paintings, Feelin’ Blue sees a departure from his usual warmer palette in favour of cooler tones inspired by Portishead’s 1994 avant-garde trip-hop album Dummy. The blue ground of the painting is reminiscent of the iconic album’s cover, which features the lead vocalist Beth Gibbons imposed on a cobalt blue background. Among Sylvester’s blues, whites, browns and glossy purples are snatches of red that combine to create an enlivened, soulful painting. On the top and bottom edges of the canvas, the abstract strokes have been covered by a linear wash of paint, reinforcing the geometry of the picture plane. More organic washes of sky and navy blue cascade throughout the piece, complementing the gestural strokes.