Artist Profile: Sherwin Banfield
Sherwin Banfield, the Artist with his work A CYPHER IN QUEENS, 2018, Image courtesy the Artist
Sherwin Banfield (b. Trinidad and Tobago in 1976; lives and works in Astoria, NY) received his BFA from Parson, The New School for Design in 1999. He works primarily in illustration, sculpture, and painting. A dedicated portraitist, Banfield believes people’s stories can be told through the gesture, texture, and composition.
His work has been exhibited in group exhibitions with the Art Students League, for example, the Model to Monument: Creating Public Art for Public Spaces at Van Cortlandt Park, NY (2013) and Riverside Park South, NY (2013). Banfield was the artist in residence at LaGuardia Airport with the Queens Council on the Arts ArtPort Residency from October to December 2018.
Director of Exhibitions Jess Wilcox interviewed Banfield on Facebook Live about his inspiration for A Cypher in Queens.
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@sherwintheartist is taking over the Park’s account today: ……… Sherwin Banfield (@sherwintheartist) was born in the land of Carnival, Calypso and steel drums: Trinidad & Tobago. He brought with him the unique sonic experience of his Caribbean childhood when he immigrated to the US at 10 years old. Settling in East Orange, NJ, the frequency of Hip Hop soon shared headphone space with his foundation of Calypso. Hip Hop eventually became the soundtrack into his adult life. This sonic experience serves as the foundation of his project ‘A Cypher in Queens’ (@acypherinqueens). . ‘A Cypher in Queens’ is a celebration of Hip Hop culture, its sonic impact on the world and the unique artistry of three fallen Queens NY Hip Hop icons. This sculptural cypher includes Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest and Prodigy of Mobb Deep. I decided to create monumental structures that contain a sonic element by integrating audio equipment with the traditional sculptural approach of modeling busts of each artist. . ‘A Cypher in Queens’ has three main references of inspiration: . The 1st – the rattling rhythms of Calypso & Reggae emanating from clusters of stacked speaker boxes during Trinidad’s Carnival season. These audio structures are designed to blast waves of festive frequencies amidst paraders and surrounding spectators. . The 2nd – the Slit Gong, a sculptural instrument made of wood and paint measuring over fourteen feet tall, created by the Tin Mweleun peoples of Ambrym Island in the Pacific Ocean. Placed in various villages, they serve as a communication tool to other villages over distances and are said to have the voices of ancestors or supernatural beings. . The 3rd – Hip Hop, which became the soundtrack to my early teens and my adult life. Hip Hop is now the most globally influenced form of American music. Hip Hop, the voice of our ancestors, is created by supernatural human beings surviving the conditions of their neighborhoods as black men & women in America. ‘A Cypher in Queens’ serves as a vessel for communicating the stories of these poets and their impact on our communities throughout the world.
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2018 Artist Fellow Sherwin Banfield (@SherwinTheArtist) is taking over our account to share insight into his project ‘A Cypher In Queens’ (@ACypherInQueens). ………….. I began my process for ‘A Cyper in Queens’ by sketching out a basic idea for a vertical speaker box adorned by portrait busts. Then I added individual details to personalize the Hip-Hop legends Jam Master Jay, Prodigy, and Phife Dawg. . I built on my initial sketches to create more technical drawings. The structural measurements, material and overall design was realized in these technical drawings. . The next step was creating a small scale models or maquettes, so I could better understand the overall design and details spatial relationships. . Working with my technical drawings, I constructed moulds with cardboard and foam core and then filled them with plaster. Seeing the transformation from two dimensions to three dimensions was really rewarding! . The most creative step was shaping clay onto the plaster maquettes. I painstaking sculpted Phife’s beloved hoodies and fitted caps, Prodigy’s bandana and tattoos, Jam Master Jay’s fedora and turntables, etc. until I arrive at a completed state for each legend’s maquette. . Clay and plaster maquettes are susceptible to damage, so as a last step I created rubber moulds. In preparation for this process, I constructed a shell structure to encase each maquette. Once the enclosed shells were secured to the base, I then prepared the rubber and slowly poured it into the shell’s opening. When the rubber cured, I had a mould that allows me to cast multiple copies of the maquette in different materials.
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2018 Artist Fellow Sherwin Banfield (@SherwinTheArtist) is taking over our account today to share insights into his project ‘A Cypher in Queens’ (@acypherinqueens). ………… The metal frame is the most important structural element of ‘A Cypher in Queens.’ It is solid and strong enough to not only hold up all the pieces that assemble the final sculpture, but to also withstand the elements, particularly New York’s harsh winter months. I designed the frames to allow for bolted assemblage and installation of decorative panels, portraits busts, and audio equipment. I was fortunate to have a professional and meticulous fabricator who constructed all three frames with precise measurement based on my technical drawings. . As the metal frame was being constructed off site, I was in the studio beginning the process of sculpting the portrait busts and panels using a variety of sculpting tools and clay. I had a false start with the first sculpted portrait – which almost collapsed off the armature – but once I figured out all the problems, the sculpting of the portraits began to flow. You can see how I work in the stop animation video of my process sculpting Phife. Once the Phife sculpture was completed, I created a breakaway mould of the clay sculpture which allowed me to cast in Winterstone. I repeated the same process for sculpting Phife and Jam Master Jay. . I also created panels representing unique elements of each hip-hop legend’s life story. Prodigy’s panels contain lyrics, tattoos, and an arial view of his home – the Queensbridge Housing complex. Phife’s panels contain neighborhood images, lyrics, and graphics from the music videos ‘Bonita Applebum’ and ‘Scenario’. And finally, Jam Master Jay’s panels contain neighborhood images, and a turntable and mixer. . Time management played a huge role in this process. I was juggling my family life – wife and eighteen month old daughter – with the construction of all the pieces of ‘A Cypher in Queens.’
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2018 Artist Fellow Sherwin Banfield (@SherwinTheArtist) is taking over our account to share insights into his project ‘A Cypher in Queens’ (@ACypherInQueens). ………… ‘A Cypher in Queens’ would not have beeen possible without the outstanding commitment and talent of the installation team at Socrates Park. Hats off the entire team. Their advise and direction was invaluable. . The install team helped me prepare concrete base footings for each sculpture. Working day into night, the metal frames were positioned, leveled then bolted onto the bases. . Next the incredible @_pariah_carey_ proceeded to build out then wire all the audio components together. Kyle and I worked into the AM hours making sure the connections were secured, all the panels were bolted on and that it all fit together to look aesthetically appealing. . After a night of wiring and installing, we tested the sound system – swipe through the slideshow to listen to Shook Ones, Pt 2 by Mobb Deep pumping through four Terra AC Five 3 outdoor @terraspeakers by @leonspeakers. An AC SUBe underground Sub provides the base. All powered by @crown_audio amp. Learn more about the audio system via the link in profile or at leonspeakers.com/blog/a-cypher-in-queens. . The Sculptures were finally installed in time for ‘The Socrates Annual’ exhibition opening – a momentous moment celebrated with the Socrates team, our amazingly talented group of 2018 Artist Fellows, Park visitors, and of course my sweet family. ‘A Cypher in Queens’ served as the unofficial background music to the ceremony. . As the exhibition has gone on, I developed a series of musical playlists to highlight significant dates for Jam Master Jay, Phife Dawg, and Prodigy – like birthdays and album anniversaries. This gave me an opportunity to collaborate with DJ’s, music producers, and other artists. I loved curating music playlists myself and was able to relive some of my formative years with music from that era.
1. Over the course of The Socrates Annual 2018 exhibition, Banfield curated a series of playlists to honor significant dates in Phife, Jam Master Jay, and Prodigy’s lives.
2. As part of the exhibition Closing Party on March 24, 2019, Banfield invites Phife’s mother Cheryl Boyce to perform a spoken word piece before he activates the final playlist for the project. Learn More>