Donald Sultan

Recent Works


Donald Sultan has transformed the intimacy of still-life paintings into weighty plasticity. Flowers or other objects seem to float on his sculptural, pitch-black tar supports. The saturated blackness of the ground not only emphasises the fragility of the ephemeral, it also produces an undercurrent that seems to pull the viewer in.


The bold colours, hard contours and stylization of Sultan‘s Lantern Paintings are reminiscent of Pop Art; the stark colour contrasts in the lantern motifs elevate them to emblematic status. Colours are more muted in Sultan‘s Lantern Flowers, where it is only the enamel gloss that distinguishes the motifs from the matte ground, producing an ambivalent interplay – a push and pull between foreground and background.


Donald Sultan substitutes industrial materials for more traditional ones such as brush, pigments and canvas. A technique devised in the 1970s to render his paintings more physical has since become his brand mark: he covers thick Masonite panels with linoleum, which he smears with tar. Then he proceeds to cut out his motifs using a knife or soldering iron before filling the negative forms with spackling paste, and applying paint or a thin coat of enamel to the motifs only. In some of his series, the works are finished off with an application of screen-printing. The raw ground that Sultan describes as „something brutal and beginning“ provides an exciting contrast to the painstakingly elaborated motifs.


The artist developed his technique in the context of Process and Pop Art that dominated the 1970s New York art world. His works may be interpreted as a blending of the two movements, for example when he combines materials and processes unrelated to art with the stylistic and iconographic strategies of Pop Art.


Sultan‘s repertoire covers the classical still-life motifs of fruit and flowers, but also includes objects of everyday use. His large series of lemons, ambivalent in their execution and often centrally depicted on black, caused a stir in the art scene. There is clearly a symbolic hint in the sensual contours and well-defined tips of the fruits. Occasionally, the lemons are depicted as black objects, as if to emphasize  their compositional relevance.


He was only 37 when the Museum of Modern Art in New York honoured his oeuvre by presenting a solo show of his Black Lemons. His works feature in the permanent collections 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 entitled „Donald Sultan: The Theater of the Object“ was published in 2008. The Andres Thalmann Gallery is proud to present a selection from his most recent series.


Ruth Littman



Press Text (pdf)

<-Back to list