Born in 1951 in Asheville, North Carolina, Donald Sultan rose to prominence in the 1980’s as a painter and draftsman of subjects such as lemons and flowers. He is best known for his rich use of black, actually tar in many of his paintings, and his work is voluminous and varied, manifesting itself in the media of paint, printing, and sculpting.
Sultan received his BFA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago*. He moved to New York in 1975, where he lives and works.
His still-lifes have been described as studies in contrast. Powerfully sensual, fleshy objects are rendered through a labor-intensive and unique method. Instead of canvas, Sultan works on masonite covered with 12-inch vinyl floor tiles. The tiles dictate the format: one-foot squares, eight-foot squares, or four-foot squares. Sultan cuts the shapes he desires into the vinyl, fills in the cutout space with plaster and/or tar, and then paints over it. These multiple layers create the texture and subsequent richness.
Although his paintings fit into the criteria of a still life, Sultan describes these works as first and foremost abstract. The largeness of Sultan’s compositions, huge pieces of fruit, flowers, dominoes and other objects, may be set against a stark, unsettling tar-black background and tend to dominate the viewer.
He is best known for his lemons and fruit, but has stated that his subjects develop from previous work. The oval of his lemons has led him to a series of oval-blossomed tulips, and dots from dice that have become oranges. Sultan’s work incorporates basic geometric and organic forms, and his images are weighty, with equal emphasis on both negative and positive areas. Sultan describes his work as “heavy structure, holding fragile meaning” with the ability to “turn you off and turn you on at the same time.”
Sultan has enjoyed a distinguished career as painter, print maker, and sculptor, including works of garden pieces. His work is always concerned, on some level at least, with recognizable imagery. “Basically I think I am a Minimalist*. But I keep trying to add as much stuff as I can and still keep the sense.”
Sultans first one man show was in 1977, and since then he has been given numerous exhibitions dedicated to his work, as well as having been included in a number of group shows. His works have been collected and shown by leading galleries and museums around the world, and his international one- artist exhibitions include shows in Barcelona, Budapest, Dusseldorf, London, Nagoya, Paris, Rome, Tokyo and Zurich. He has been a Visiting Artist at the Santa Fe Art Institute, and collaborated with the playwright David Mamet on the book, Bar Mitzvah.