Dark Objects at the Huxley-Parlour Gallery is the first UK retrospective for the American artist Donald Sultan. The exhibition includes a selection of works created between 1977 and 2019.
In 1970s and 1980s Sultan (b.1951) was a part of the vibrant New York art scene. At the time he was one of the few artists who became interested in figurative art. Following Abstract Expressionism of the 40s and 50s and Conceptual Art of 60s and 70s, there was still something left to be discovered in figurative painting. Sultan was also one of the first in America to use industrial ingredients, such as tar, latex and rubber in art. The artist acknowledges the Italian movement Arte Povera, with its use of unconventional materials, as one of his influences. He found appeal in those materials, but unlike those earlier Italian artists trying to fight the establishment, his work was not political. The artist enjoyed experimenting, painting in various non-traditional media, and realised that he rather liked black colour. Black became a constant feature in his works for decades to come.
The earliest works on display are small works on Masonite panels, which show interest in pure form. Mundane objects, a street lamp, cigar and dominoes on minimal dark backgrounds stand in contrast with his large-scale paintings created in the 1980s.
In his own words, the artist is more interested in ‘making’ imagery rather than drawing. This physical aspect is noticeable throughout the exhibition, but it is most tangible in the ‘Disaster Paintings’, a series of monumental industrial landscapes and catastrophic images created in the 1980s. Inspired by photographs of disasters in newspapers the final work is not necessarily an image of one particular event. What is also striking in those paintings is the visible grid structure underlying the image. Many of those works are painted on tiles mounted on wood or Masonite boards.
Visual traces of the artistic process reveal themselves when we examine the artworks closely. Melted tar, latex and spackle (a kind of crack-filling paste) resemble scars in the Forest Fire (1985). An occasional fingerprint or a fragment of charcoal stuck to the surface of the paper can be noticed in the ‘Black Lemons’ series. Unconventional still-lives of lemons and flowers in different configurations have the appearance of a negative photograph.
More recently, Sultan injects more colour into his works, but his favourite black is still there.
The retrospective at the Huxley-Parlour charts Sultan’s career showcasing works from his most acclaimed series and his most recent paintings. Well-worth visiting for anyone interested in contemporary art.
Donald Sultan: Dark Objects at the Huxley-Parlour, London (5 June – 29 June 2019)
Gallery website: https://huxleyparlour.com/
Artist’s website: http://donaldsultanstudio.com/