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Indepth Arts News:

"Donald Sultan: In the Still Life Tradition"
2000-01-23 until 2000-04-09
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Memphis, TN, USA United States of America

The work of Donald Sultan is voluminous and varied. Since 1975, when he arrived in New York, Sultan's creative energy has manifested itself in the mediums of paint, printing, and sculpting. 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, modern approach that is unique. Opening January 23, 2000, at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, is Donald Sultan: In the Still Life Tradition. Organized by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, this exhibition focuses on Sultan's untraditional approach to a traditional theme Still Lifes. Featured are twenty of the artist's large-scale paintings (8' x 8'), including his well-known vases and flowers, lemons, dominos, and buttons as well as his latest works of red tomatoes.

The representation of an assemblage of objects from the everyday world has captivated artists and their audiences throughout history. Still lifes find their origin in the ancient ritual of hospitality; the ability to offer one's guests flowers or fruit, as a sign of prosperity and generosity, eventually found its way into artistic representation. Throughout art history, from the mosaics of antiquity through Dutch seventeenth-century still life paintings to cubist compositions, fascination with still lifes has remained constant. Donald Sultan's works fit perfectly in this tradition, while at the same time offering a springboard into the next century.

Although Sultan's subject matter varies, his still lifes share formal similarities of volume, texture and richness. He is best known for his lemons and fruit, and states that his subjects develop from previous work. The oval of his lemons has led to a series of oval-blossomed tulips. 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's still lifes have been described as studies in contrast. His powerfully sensual, fleshy object representations are rendered through a labor-intensive and unique method. Instead of canvas, Sultan works on masonite covered with 12 inch vinyl floor tiles. The format is dictated by the tiles one- foot squares, eight-foot squares, or most recently, four-foot squares. Sultan cuts the shapes he desires into the vinyl. He fills in the cutout space with plaster and/or tar, and then paints over it. These multiple layers create the texture and subsequent richness that are so appealing. And 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. 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.

Donald Sultan was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. His father, a person with his own artistic tendencies, was a tire salesman. His father's business probably had a strong effect on Sultan's unusual choice of mediums. Sultan attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and received his MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago. He and his wife, Susan, who is also from Asheville, moved to New York upon Sultan's graduation from the Art Institute in 1975. They have two children, a daughter Frances, age 18, and a son Penn, age 11. Sultan's work is internationally recognized, and hangs in museums throughout the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum.

Donald Sultan: In the Still Life Tradition is organized by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and curated by Dana Holland-Beickert. The exhibition is being circulated by Pamela Auchincloss, Arts Management. Funding for the national tour and catalogue is provided by FDX Corporation.

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