Four years had passed since I last spoke to Donald Sultan, a North-Carolina, New York-based contemporary painter who is best known for his iconic flowers, lemons and geometric shapes; all of which can efficiently captivate you. It was back in Paris since I interviewed him over email, and as one of the first painters featured in Cestlulu, the tranquil and determined artist made me realize on this well-detailed interview what a fascinating mentality an artist can have.
Fast forward to now and I’m having a longer, more in-depth conversation at his industrial, bright and spacious Tribeca studio. The space transmits energy and creativity, just as if you were in an exclusive behind the scenes movie set, or in a place where you’re able to sense a creative force. Now I can see why his ideas come from his own studio.
The oversized yellow and red flowers Sultan is well known for transmit power and positivity, and not just to the viewer, but it seems to be the case for the three additional team members who while I conduct the interview, seem to be fully condensed helping the artist complete an image. Sultan trusts them, some have been there for over more than 15 years, and it’s because they enjoy what they do.
The team’s amusement is transmittable through Sultan’s fundamentals, as the artist reconciles his creations through things that are innate. “It isn’t just the act of doing something, but the purposeful way of doing it,” he says. And he does it with passion, as there is meaning behind the physicality of his symbolic flowers and lemons. “Flowers are as a brief life span within the structure, the permanence of their image transforms into something else,” he tells me. And by ‘something else’ he means he pairs the materials and complexity of the structure while maintaining its physicality.
Sultan isn’t only known for his physical objects and geometric forms on large canvases, he has additionally collaborated on making real life objects such as tea sets and carpets at iconic places such as The Centre Pompidou in Paris. “I used to have a studio right in front of it [The Centre Pompidou],” he mentions. It certainly is nice to remember Paris this way, even if he still does have a studio there now.
In between New York and Paris he also works with a company that makes napkins and scarves for his own drawings. It shows he’s fond of art decor as he tells me he likes the idea of not buying flowers thanks to his latest work on sculptures. One of them lies in front of me, on the studio’s kitchen table. The sculpture’s forms are taken from his original paintings, I now realize it’s how Sultan moves along from one place to the other. Experimenting multiple ways of where his designs will look a bit more edgy and with a little more of a surprise.
“The whole idea is a mystery,” he says, “I don’t go to a canvas and hope. I know basically what I’m after. You have to be a bit ahead of yourself because if you get exactly what you want, it’s kind of boring.”
Sultan sums up how he keeps surprising himself over his final results in an ongoing idea. It shows that as much as he paints dice he's willing roll them too, and confidently, as he successfully works his way through the unexpected. For example, he’s been changing his objects to have two tone colors such as black and aqua put together.
“Burgundy and black, and cream. Dark burnt orange, red tail lights and silver chrome – pretty colors. I miss those colors in cars.” He sure knows them well too. But I bet he knows a lot more than that, as by the time I make a trip downstairs to see the rest of his studio, I find myself in front of a wall covered of shelves with different pigments. An artist’s paradise. I bet Sultan is remaking the colors in cars he’s been lacking to see on the streets. But no fear, he’ll make a better version here. The sky’s the limit at his studio, it feels exciting.