For her first solo exhibition at Hollybush Gardens, Altoon Sultan presents a new body of paintings. The formalism of Sultan’s work attends to composition, colour, spatiality and light. Sultan originally studied with Philip Pearlstein and Lois Dodd in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, situating her in a lineage of realism which shares an interest in precision and the vibrancy of interpretation. Initially exhibiting paintings of domestic, largely Victorian, architecture, Sultan developed a practice depicting expansive agricultural landscapes, later sharpening perspective to the landscape’s related machinery and industry
In this exhibition, Sultan continues her examination of agricultural implements and machinery through tightly focussed details. These concentrated views are the translation of photographs Sultan takes in spring and summer months at dairy farms in northeastern Vermont. This digital framework facilitatesSultan’s intimate observance, the camera lens delimiting views that are pointedly subjective. These chosen details — focused on volume, colour and light — imbue the source image with a new sensibility arrived at by Sultan’s use of egg tempera on calfskin parchment. Sultan isolates structural features to organise and estrange form on the canvas. This unsettled scale is resonant in the disciplined dimensions ofSultan’s paintings which are never larger than 13 inches in height and width. This sizing contracts industrial components to a tangible scale, their proportion and palette not unlike those of 15th-century illuminated manuscripts — an early influence of Sultan’s. In this process, Sultan’s practice operates at the overlap of exactitude and fascination; fidelity and ambiguity; presence and alienation.
Such tensions are enhanced by the works’ unusual subjects. Mass-produced machinery are attended to as volumes and colour-planes, their structural integrity replete with aesthetic potential. Each condensed, proximal isolation paradoxically withdraws and reveals: close frames display fractions of hydraulics and axes, contours and curvatures. Sultan’s ardent attention prompts the viewer to speculate on the depicted fragment’s relation to a larger engineered network or mechanical whole: its affiliated circuitry, its general scale, its ultimate function. Fixated to such a degree, these delineated and curtailed components proffer only abstracted approximations of form and geometry — their legibility is both exquisitely particular and utterly partial.
Sultan’s uncanny examination of form and composition is explicitly articulated through a diverse palette, including tones such as aquamarine, azure, chartreuse, coral and cadmium red. Attuned to the sunlight in which Sultan’s photographs are taken, such hues shift from the receding to the radiant. The chromatic fluctuation intensifies the oscillation between the observed and the obscured. In their brilliance and peculiar individuation, each painting restores a jewel-like luminosity and strange clarity to structures which, despite their prevalence and vital purpose, frequently exist in the abstract.
Altoon Sultan (b. 1948, Brooklyn, NY, USA) lives and works in Groton, Vermont. She received her BA andMFA degrees from Brooklyn College, where she studied with Philip Pearlstein and Lois Dodd. Sultan’s work advocates a tradition of realism in which capturing perceived reality is second only to its stringent, vivid and precise interpretation.