Born in 1951 in Asheville, North Carolina, Sultan studied at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and later received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. His first solo exhibition was mounted in 1977 at Artists Space in New York, and his work has since been exhibited worldwide in solo and group exhibitions.
Sultan’s imagery was simultaneously abstract and representational, and as he was exploring the boundary between the abstract and the everyday, he moved from the industrial subjects to the natural world, creating paintings and drawings of fruits and flowers – lemons and tulips, pomegranates and poppies. 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 is the statement Sultan’s images make. His work incorporates basic geometric and organic forms with a visual purity that is both subtle and monumental. His images are weighty, with equal emphasis on both negative and positive areas. Sultan’s still lifes are studies in contrast. “Most of my ideas were to put imagery back into abstract painting,” explains Sultan of his artistic inspiration. “Some of the ones that look the most abstract are actually the most realistic,” says the artist.
Juxtaposing traditional approaches to painting with unique materials, Sultan uses industrial plaster, tar, Spackle and enamel as part of his painting process. Creating layers on Masonite instead of canvas, he cuts and strips away sections, outlining and embossing his chosen shapes and forms before painting over them. Sultan describes his work as “heavy structure, holding fragile meaning,” hovering between industry and nature.