Donald Sultan (b. 1951) is an important painter, sculptor, and printmaker, who rose to prominence in the late 1970s as part of the “New Image” movement. He’s known for his monumental paintings that characteristically employ industrial materials, including tar, spackle, and enamel, to render basic geometric and organic elements with a formal minimalism that is both weighty and structured. Sultan is known for his still-life imagery as well as his “Disaster” paintings and subject matter of industry, war, and man-made catastrophes. Throughout his career, he has revisited and reinvented the still-life with images of lemons, poppies, playing cards, fruits and flowers, and other objects. Interested in contrast, he explores such dichotomies as beauty and roughness, nature and artificiality, and realism and abstraction.
Major print projects include “Black Lemons” aquatint portfolio, printed in 1987 and exhibited at MoMA a year later. In 1999, he collaborated with David Mamet on his book, Bar Mitzvah, for which he did the drawings. In 2002, Sultan was invited to launch the Visiting Artists Programme at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, where he created ambitious woodcut and intaglio prints. Other important prints include the silkscreens Fruits and Flowers I, II, III; Green Apples with master printer Ken Tyler; Red Roses and Egg; the Smoke Rings series; The Brutal Unsentimental Landscape series, and the 12 Colors portfolio, marked by the complex nature of the projects.
Born in Asheville, NC, Sultan studied at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and later received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. He has since received honorary doctorate degrees from the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C., the New York Academy of Art and the University of North Carolina. In 2010, Sultan was awarded the North Carolina Award, the highest award a state can bestow upon a civilian.
Sultan moved to New York City in 1975. His first solo exhibition was mounted in 1977 at Artists Space in New York. His work has since been exhibited worldwide, including Finland, Russia, Brazil, and Venezuela. In 1988, the Museum of Modern Art in New York held “Donald Sultan’s Black Lemons.” The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, TN, organized “Donald Sultan: In the Still-Life Tradition,” which traveled to Corcoran Gallery of Art, DC; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO; Polk Museum of Art, FL; and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, AZ, in 2000. The Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, exhibited “Donald Sultan: The First Decade,” featuring his early works in 2009.
He is included in most major museum collections, among them The Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Cincinnati Art Museum, OH; Cleveland Art Museum, OH; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, TX; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Ludwig Museum, Budapest; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Neuberger Museum at SUNY-Purchase, NY; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Singapore Museum of Art; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; Tate Gallery, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MO; and Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.
Important publications include Donald Sultan by Ian Dunlop and Lynne Warren, which accompanied his solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1987); Donald Sultan: A Print Retrospective by Barry Walker (1992); Donald Sultan: In the Still-Life Tradition by David Mamet and Steven Henry Madoff (2000); and Donald Sultan: Theater of the Object by Carter Ratcliff (2008)