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REGINALD BAYLOR: Art Ed

Coloring in between the lines may be Reginald Baylor’s most obvious trait, but the structured blend of practical sensibilities into his ultra creative vision might be his best offering yet.

Words: Anna Graizbord
Images: Reginald Baylor

One may not realize it at first glance, but one of the most significant influences on Reginald Baylor’s paintings is architecture—both because of the geometric shapes, heaviness, and hard-edged lines of buildings and structures. Baylor says that he doesn’t reach too far outside of what’s right in front of his face to know what it is that he wants to paint. Though one would also be surprised to know that Baylor lived in Southern California and for a long time worked as a cross-country truck driver, there’s just something about Milwaukee that is never quite absent from his work.

Baylor has been compared to Keith Haring, mainly because he is also a very distinctly straight-edged painter. No, that doesn’t mean these artists are drug and alcohol free as I ridiculously thought at first, but instead, actually means that there is no gradation in color between one point to the next in their painting. Line quality is very thick and distinct, like in a comic book, and because of this and the absence of variation of color within the lines, the color separations are very noticeable, taking on a strikingly graphic quality. In fact, Baylor went so far as to assert that what Haring does is essentially drawing in painting form.

Though certainly the straight, thick lines and geometric shapes give his paintings a quality of solidity, there’s something very fluid and playful going on as well. His images and subject matter can sometime resemble album covers for funk bands from the 1970s. In fact, music is another big influence on Baylor, especially when lyrics are at the forefront. Some of the musicians he cites as very influential in his life and work include Radiohead, The Wood Brothers, Kings Go Forth (an electronic soul band from Milwaukee) and Ben Harper. He singled out Harper particularly because of the way he pulls elements from all sorts of different genres of music, which is something that Baylor sees as valuable in his own work as well.

It’s no wonder then that the collection of some of the themes and different aesthetics Baylor explores seem as though they come from someone who’s seen quite a bit in their life. For example, some of his pieces feature either Black women with blonde hair and coloring, or White Marilyn Monroe-like women with the coloring of a Black woman—sort of playing with the idea of what American beauty means.

Baylor is a fan of playing with landscapes as well. In “Laguna Canyon Overcast”, there is a something of a colorful Candy Land look to the desert vegetation, despite the overcast sky. Baylor remarked that moving and living in California—while working at a few galleries and a museum in Laguna Beach, he began to incorporate much more color and paid more attention to light and shadow, as well as warmth and temperature. One can definitely see the Californian influence in some of his pieces, but it’s clear that his mind and heart are set in Milwaukee, to which he eventually returned, and currently lives and works from his home gallery, the Reginald Baylor Studio. From there the former Artist-In-Residence at the Pfister Hotel lends much of his time engaging the local community on various collaborative art projects and arts education.

In contrast to the way he saw California, Baylor remarked that the architecture and landscape of the American Midwest is much older, more complex and much more challenging in terms of shapes. Baylor actually studied to be a sculptor when he was coming up in Milwaukee—that’s how enamored of the heavy, manmade and the physical he was, and clearly still is. Perhaps what he loves about Milwaukee the best right at this moment is that, like Detroit, it is experiencing a boom in creativity and artistic opportunity. Baylor characterizes this shift as “revolutionary” in that it’s creating an entirely new Midwestern art scene where there was literally nothing before in turning urban decay, something, as Baylor says, “… worthless into something beautiful.”

In a similar vein to that of the industrial city he calls home, Baylor approaches his work in a very efficient, methodical and business-like way.

“I take myself and my career very professionally and go about it as a professional creator, like a restaurateur or chef… product, service and customer satisfaction. Twelve years as a truck driver taught me how to follow that model.”

Though he obviously enjoys listening to music, and even playing the guitar, Baylor is constantly working on his art. Much like Milwaukee, Reginald Baylor is blending the best of both worlds—the practical and the creative—into one exquisite body of thought-provoking work.

Images by Reginald Baylor.

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