Born in 1951 in Asheville, North Carolina, Donald Sultan received his BFA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and his MFA from the Art Institute in Chicago. He moved to New York in 1975. Sultan’s work is voluminous and varied. Since his first one-man show in 1977, he has enjoyed a distinguished career as a painter, printmaker, and sculptor. His extensive body of work has placed him at the forefront of contemporary art, where he has become best known for his ability to successfully merge the best of yesterday’s artistic tradition with a fresh, unique approach to imagery and materials.
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, set against the stark, unsettling tar-black, eight-foot-square background, dominate the viewer. He is best known for his lemons and fruit, and states that his subjects develop from previous work. The oval-blossomed charcoal tulips of the 80s became his immediately recognizable black lemons. Dots from dice have become oranges. What does not change with Sultan’s work is the powerful statement his forms make. Sultan’s work incorporates basic geometric and organic forms with a formal purity that is both subtle and monumental. 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’s still lifes have been described as studies in contrast. His powerfully sensual, fleshy object representations are rendered through a labor-intensive and singular method.
Sultan has been given numerous exhibitions dedicated to his work, as well as having been included in a number of group shows. His work is included in the permanent collection of many prestigious institutions including The Museum of Modern Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A monograph of Sultan’s 30 year career was published in 2008, entitled, Donald Sultan: The Theatre of the Object. In 2010, Sultan was honored with the North Carolina award, the highest award a state can bestow upon a civilian.
Traveling Exhibition — “Donald Sultan: The Disaster Paintings”
- Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL: 29 September – 23 December 2016
- Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth, TX: 19 February – 23 April 2017
- Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC: 26 May – 4 September 2017
- North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC: 23 September – 31 December 2017
- Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE: 17 January – 6 April 2018