Texture has always been an important part of Donald Sultan’s work. Tar, rubber and linoleum give his works texture and depth. Sultan became familiar with industrial materials when, as a boy, he hung out at his father’s tire shop in Asheville, North Carolina. When Sultan moved to New York in 1975, after receiving his MFA from the University of Chicago, he supported himself by doing construction during the day and painting at night.
As a struggling young artist, Sultan used tar, linoleum and other industrial materials, which were inexpensive and readily available to him on job sites. The use of industrial materials gave his work a substance and feel that hadn’t been seen before in the art world. By the 1970s his work was receiving critical acclaim and he was able to work as an artist full time.
His series of Disaster Paintings, done between 1984 and 1990, were industrial landscapes of events taken from newspaper clippings. The use of tar, linoleum, rubber and plaster lent themselves to his paintings of man-made objects, and the disasters that can befall them. The square linoleum tiles, mounted on Masonite or wood, gave Sultan a grid to work with, and he began to make use of the grid for his early domino paintings.
As he began to paint more traditional fruits and flowers, he kept the grid and the tough materials, and the contrast between the industrial texture of his materials and the delicacy of his subjects gave his paintings extraordinary and unique qualities.
Donald Sultan Prints at VFA
When Donald Sultan began making prints, he worked with Parisian printmaker, Aldo Crommelynck, the same master printer Picasso worked with. More recently, Sultan has worked with Mixografia, whose specialty is fabricating textured and three-dimensional prints.
Japanese Pines, available at VFA, is one of the finest examples of the quality of work that Donald Sultan has produced with Mixografia. Sultan also uses enamel inks and flocking to create remarkable surfaces on his prints, like Lantern Flowers Red, also for sale at VFA.
He also incorporates diamond dust, another industrial material, into some of his prints, which, when combined with fine paper, creates a unique quality to his work. Blacks and Blues, for sale at VFA, is another superb example of Sultan’s sensibility.
Donald Sultan Sculptures at VFA
Going from textured surfaces to creating sculptures was a natural progression for Donald Sultan. He uses aluminum and Cor-Ten steel, a copper chromium alloy steel that has a high level of resistance to weathering. Sultan’s delicate flower sculptures, like Cor-Ten Poppies and White Tulips and Vase are further examples of his unique ability to combine industrial materials and fragile subject matter.
Donald Sultan’s Prints and Sculptures at VFA
Please contact us if you would like more information about Japanese Pines, Lantern Flowers, Cor-Ten Poppies, White Tulips and Vase, Blacks and Blues or any of the other fine works available at VFA.
Calvin Tomkins. Object Lessons. The New Yorker. April 5, 1999.
Smithsonian American Art Museum. Donald Sultan: The Disaster Paintings. May 26, 2017.