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Sylvia Maier’s Neighborhood

Sylvia Maier has a solo show during Black History Month at Bernarducci Gallery at Chelsea.

Smoke and Grills | oil on linen | 54x48 | 2017

New York’s diverse neighborhoods have been the inspiration for many artists including works in the cinema, television, novels, and figurative paintings. Most recently Sylvia Maier, a native New Yorker, has been painting her neighbors. Her new series titled Prospect Park Day and Night was inspired by the name of the subway stop on the Q/B Line.

Although she has been sketching her neighbors for years, the first painting from the series Bodega evolved after she was encouraged by her art dealer Frank Bernarducci. Sylvia says that Frank’s support recharged and inspired her further to complete a series of paintings for her solo show which is taking place in February during Black History Month. Furthermore the painting was spotted by the Tate Museum’s IG account earlier last year and it reached thousands of views.

Having the freedom to paint with the support from her gallery was unparalleled to Sylvia and it gave her the determination to soar with the Prospect Park series. Plus, the joy in knowing that the work would show at Bernarducci Gallery with someone of such integrity was a full circle in her artistic career.

Sylvia grew up with a rich cultural background. Her mother was from Argentina and her father is American. She lives a bohemian lifestyle with her husband, two sons, and two Labrador retrievers who usually end up in their yearly Holiday photo taken by her husband the renowned photographer Andre Maier.

Bodega | oil on linen | 48x54 | 2017

Tony, the subject in Bodega has been an inspiration to Sylvia for many years. She says that his face always appealed to her and that she is drawn to people who are kind to everyone. She would watch him as she sketched and noticed he’d take breaks to pray. Being a bodega owner is not easy especially in a tough neighborhood. She observed him many times before taking the initiative to ask him to pose for her. She thought perhaps his culture did not agree with having his portrait created so she wanted to respect that. Lucky for Sylvia, Tony agreed to participate.

One day when she returned to work on the painting she noticed that the bodega was closed. The sign on the gate read that they were at the Muslim ban protest. There was a missing sign from the window which was from “Jews for Peace”. She debated whether or not to paint the signs into the work because New Yorker’s have been coexisting peacefully and thriving outside of administration agenda and that is the audience she wanted to speak to.

The second painting from the series, Bodega 2, with Fora, is a Korean owned bodega with a Spanish speaking staff. This bodega sells everything. Notice all the items behind the main figure. This bodega is familiar to the ones I grew up in Miami and Los Angeles. There is nostalgia and a universal language which reaches out to the viewer. You don’t have to read the details of the names on the bottles, boxes and jars to recognize the brands behind the cashier.
Painting her contemporaries encouraged Sylvia to include the Afro Punk paintings into the series. The subjects in these works are from the tattoo shop and Afro punk festivals. Culture, music, beauty, and social activism are all captured in the series.

Diva | oil on linen | 54x72 | 2017

Sylvia Maier’s subject for Diva seems to be her muse. He is in several of the paintings of the Prospect Park series. The one titled Diva has the subject standing against a graphic next to a heart in a James Dean pose except he is an urban cowboy with his branding of tattoos and swathed in the ultimate depiction of badass. Love radiates from this work.

Tattooist’s Apprentice | oil on linen | 48x66 | 2017

In another painting from the series Tattooist’s Apprentice, the muse shows up twice in the neighborhood Tattoo shop in a Jesus type pose hovering over angelically as if blessing the new tat while his twin sticks a needle in the arm of a client wearing a skull t-shirt as he looks away with trust.

And yet in another painting from the series, Don’t Come For Me Unless I Send For You, the muse is standing with a skateboard over his head as if carrying the cross. The weight of humanity sits on his shoulder.

The male figures in Maier’s work are in plain sight depicting the sacrifices being made by black males in our current American society.

Don’t Come For Me Unless I Send For You | oil on linen | 51x36 | 2017

Prospect Park Day and Night, is an important and powerful work by Sylvia Maier. These neighborhoods and people who come across in the works are part of our American story should be seen in person. The show runs through February 24th at Bernarducci Gallery.
Prospect Park, Day and Night
Solo Show at Bernarducci Gallery 
529 W 20th Street
Feb1–24, 2018