a strong feeling that something is about to happen, especially something unpleasant.
In his newest installation, ‘Premonition‘, artist Reginald Sylvester II paints a bright abstract of his dreams. “Soul driven works…that stream from my unconscious”, Sylvester states. Sylvester’s paintings, though all thought provoking and different, share similar themes throughout. What are Sylvester’s inner premonitions? Is he outright telling us, or allowing the us to feel our own premonitions? Lets dive in:
Something that interests me about Sylvester’s installation, ‘Premonition’, are the modes and channels he is able to bridge through his art. His art links his unconscious with his conscious, creating abstract works from abstract thoughts. This bridge between the unconscious and conscious suspends the viewer in Sylvester’s dream like world, exploring the human-eque characiatures of his mind. This allows the viewer to step into Sylvester’s dystopian world, one which distorts and exploits societal norms in disconcerting and abstract ways.
This is where the title ‘Premonition’ steps in. In this paralleled, upside down world, what feelings do the paintings evoke? The brightness of the colors attack me, like extremely vivid memories, and everything looks like a chaotic whirlwind of color, shape and figure abstraction. Could this be a comment on the dwellings of Sylvester’s mind? Or possibly a comment on the state of our country?
These two ideas usually go hand in hand. The vibrant portraits seem to represent people, but in very dehumanized and animalistic ways. If Sylvester’s work stems from his dreams, and presumably his hidden fears that appear to him while dreaming, then the people in these paintings could represent what he believes he, as an African American male citizen, is perceived as. This effectively submerges the viewer into a world Sylvester is too familiar with, a world where racism persists, dehumanizes and causes one to be always watched. This idea of being constantly watched, whether it be by law enforcement or social media outlets, seems to be causing a sort of crazy making in Sylvester’s mind. This is clearly symbolized through a contrast of bright and dark colors, swirling motions on the edges of his paintings, numerous detached eyes, and fence like slashes throughout his work.
“Premonition embodies a set of works that reflect my physical energy and my truth. These images have been projected from my unconscious, through my hand, and onto the surface. When tapping into the unconscious I believe that you are tapping into your inner spirit, the soul. In this place, untainted truth and identity reside.” – Reginald Sylvester II
This is not be the first time African American citizens have been likened to animals, or something less than human. A Vogue Magazine cover featuring LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen replicated an early army propaganda poster, causing LeBron James to unknowingly take the role of a large ape. Disgusting, racially charged comparisons like these could explain the reasoning behind the animalistic characters of Sylvester’s paintings. In his dystopian dream world, Sylvester exploits himself by portraying the subjects of his paintings as their worst stereotypes.
Sylvester also utilizes fences to make his dream world a real one, architecture being the bridge between art and reality. These fences, also featured in his paintings, can serve multiple purposes; fences usually being a way to enclose an area, to keep things in. Because these art pieces represent the unconscious dream world of Sylvester’s mind, the fences, on a very basic level, could represent Sylvester’s inability to escape his own mind, an inability to escape his own premonitions. These fences can also represent the ideas that Sylvester had once entrapped inside his mind. The thoughts, the premonitions, that, until this time, he had left locked up, away from the scrutiny and judgement of others.
Some of his paintings even seem to be screaming this at us. ‘Fragmented Intuition’, his 15 painting grid piece, (pictured below) features a painting of a man with the caption “Give me a chance!”. Could this be Sylvester’s unconscious screaming to be let out, or is it Sylvester himself fighting to be taken seriously as an African American artist in an inherently racially restrictive society?
Thinking about fences as a tool of entrapment, these fences could also speak to criticize the hypocrisy of ‘freedom’ for American citizens of color, fences usually being associated with jail and incarceration. Sylvester’s painting ‘2/3’ (pictured below) shows fences with numbers on the inside. This could be a comment on the lack of humanity within the prison and justice systems, turning inmates into mere numbers, numbers who don’t seem to deserve the basic civil liberties our country was founded on.
Other prominent African American artists, such as poet Claudia Rankine, also speak about this paradoxical lack of freedom. Rankine states this in her book of lyrical poetry ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’:
“You are you even before you grow into understanding you are not anyone, worthless, not worth you. Even as your own weight insists you are here, fighting off the weight of nonexistence. And still this life parts your lids, you see you seeing your extending hand as a falling wave— I they he she we you turn only to discover the encounter to be alien to this place. Wait. The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you. The opening, between you and you, occupied, zoned for an encounter, given the histories of you and you— And always, who is this you? The start of you, each day, a presence already— Hey you—” – Claudia Rankine
Eyes are another feature of Sylvester’s installation that I find interesting. Many of his paintings encompass a multitude of single eyes unattached from the human body. These eyes could represent on our newly social media based society, one in which everyone is constantly able to watch each other. These eyes could also speak to the insecurities that surround being in the public eye, a space that Sylvester now operates in as an emerging artist of growing acclaim.
In the paintings pictured below the eyes seem to be characters of their own. In the top painting the eyes all seem to be connected, possibly referring to a system of communication like the FBI or CIA. The caricature with his fist up evokes images of the Black Panther movement, or the more recent Black Power movement. These movements being ones that have historically been watched, monitored and interfered in by government agencies.
The eyes in bottom picture seem to all be carefully watching the paintings subject say what looks to be the pledge of allegiance. This multitude of watchful eyes could represent the wary feeling surrounding minorities citizens, whose actions are scrupulously watched and scrutinized, and whose loyalties to their country are constantly discounted.
Reginald Sylvester II has many premonitions. Is he always being watched, always being scrutinized? Is our country moving in the right direction? Will history repeat itself? Sylvester drops you into the caricature dystopia of his mind in his new installation ‘Premonitions’. Explore more about Sylvester himself, and his paintings in the links below.