Sylvio Lynch III says he didn’t recognize the city he grew up in.
“I was driving around and decided to relearn the city because I’m seeing places that are familiar and unfamiliar at the same time,” Lynch says.
The Richmond native moved back to his hometown two years ago. Before this he was “all over,” completing graduate coursework in architecture and public history and earning a doctorate in American studies.
The artist says over the years he’s dabbled in watercolor portraits, acrylics and oil paintings, but drawing is his first and true love. In his debut exhibition, “Drawn Discovery,” Lynch will transform the upstairs of the Reynolds Gallery with his thoughtful shades of gray – two bodies of graphite drawings, his paper series and his city series.
“Drawing to me is just more organic,” Lynch says. “The actual act of it – the skill work, as a matter of getting my ideas across.”
Reynolds Gallery has been bringing in outside talent – it’s just wrapping up an exhibition from New Yorker Amanda Valdez – and highlighting local artists since 1977, when director Alice Livingston was just 6 months old. Her mother, Beverly Reynolds, founded the contemporary art haven after relocating from New York.
“She was reluctant to move, she was a city girl,” Livingston says. “She came down here and started the gallery in our house in the Fan and would drive her station wagon up to New York and back.”
Today the gallery is guided by Livingston and Reynolds’ longtime assistant Julia Monroe, as well as associate Janie Hall. The three are devoted curators, passionate about Reynolds’ mission to create a platform for emerging artists.
To further this mission, the gallery has introduced the Launch Project initiative, a program designed to grant artists practicing “outside of the traditional gallery structure” the opportunity to present their work. Lynch is the 2020 recipient.
“We wanted to make sure there was no one quietly working really hard on amazing projects that people should see,” Hall says. “We made an open call to the entire community: When we saw Sylvio’s work we were immediately impressed.”
With a background in architecture and philosophy, Lynch is measured, thoughtful, purposeful in his approach. He started creating his city series long before he applied to the Launch Project, not knowing exactly where the pieces would land, but feeling compelled to capture the dizzying, uncanny feeling he could not shake.
“I don’t know if it's psychological,” Lynch says. “I was asking, ‘What’s normal here?’ ‘I remember this alley here in the Fan, I’ve driven by this alley all my life. In a way some of these pieces are anchoring me back to the city.”
Lynch’s graphite works “City 1” and “City 2” are both 5 by 5 inches, his starting point. From there they grow — “City 9” is 8 by 8, “Paper 1” is a whopping 14 by 17. The first two city scenes capture sharp angles, potentially identifiable alleyways and electrical wires, the intimation of a verdant oak, a wrought-iron fence.
It’s “City 9,” though, that is perhaps the linchpin of this series.
“I became obsessed with power lines,” Lynch says. “I’m trying to capture the plainness of certain things and then from there trying to create some sort of special framing of the city.” The work’s depiction of a lone telephone pole is so hauntingly hopeful, reverberating with a familiar yet can’t-quite-be-placed energy. It could be a snapshot of any city, anywhere in the world. But it’s not – it’s here.
Lynch says he started work on his paper series once he was about five city drawings deep. “I think in my mind it was somewhat autobiographical,” he says of the drawings depicting crumpled, lined pieces of paper. “I was thinking of it as a restart. I’ve been moving around so I started thinking about what represents getting to a destination, so to speak, what is something that signifies that? And I started drawing paper.”
Each piece of paper – “It was really an exercise in figure drawing” – began as a skeleton, the shell of a thought or story that would slowly, surely, become it’s very own character with its own trajectory.
Lynch says his graphite drawings have been influenced by his academic studies, particularly his dissertation on Norman Rockwell. “As a result of looking at Rockwell pieces over and over again I was like, ‘There’s something here that fascinates me in terms of the work I like to do with photorealism and hyperrealism.’”
Sylvio Lynch’s depiction of American culture will be on display for the first time Friday, Nov. 13.
Lynch has illustrated children’s books and has been hired to draw things as varied as pet portraits and home facades for real estate companies. Ten of his pieces, specifically commissioned by Pond Interiors, hang in the Hotel Trundle in Columbia, South Carolina. But this is his first solo exhibition in a contemporary gallery. And he’s a little nervous.
“I haven't seen everything at the same time together,” says Lynch, who, like any good creative, knows when to put a piece of work away for a while. “I'm nervous to an extent, you don't know how it will go over, perhaps because I work in realism I want the commentary to be more than just, ‘Hey that looks like this.’”
Lynch hopes his viewers will go beyond the guessing game, instead becoming entranced by the familiar yet unfamiliar – finding a moment of peace in his sharp angles and soft edges. Seeing the city they know and love, born anew.
“Drawn Discovery” opens Friday, Nov. 13, with a reception from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and remains on view through Dec. 23. Visit reynoldsgallery.com.