After receiving an MFA degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, Donald Sultan moved to New York in 1975 to begin his career as an artist. At first he was supporting himself by helping other artists construct lofts during the day and painting at night. He soon got a full-time position as a handyman in an art gallery, a job that lasted until the gallery closed in 1978. In 1979, Sultan won a $2,500 Creative Artists Public Service Grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, and that money enabled him to work full-time on his art. “By then I had started to show at a couple of places and to sell enough work to keep going,” he said.
Donald Sultan rose to prominence in the electrified atmosphere of New York’s downtown renaissance in the late 1970s as part of the “New Image” movement. His first solo exhibition was mounted in 1977 at Artists Space in New York, followed by group shows at Mary Boone Gallery in 1978 and Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1979.
As Sultan’s work started to attract media attention and receive critical acclaim, prominent galleries and museums around the world such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the New York Museum of Modern Art, and the Houston Museum of Contemporary Art, in 1981 began to include his paintings in their exhibitions. In 1987 alone, impressive solo exhibitions were mounted at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Blum Helman Gallery in New York.
Reviewing these exhibitions for the New York Times, art critic Roberta Smith wrote, “Mr. Sultan is nothing if not a master of physical density, of the well-built image and the well-carpentered painting. He seems particularly to love the way an implacable slab of material can be made to flip-flop into a classically perfect, illusionistic form…”
In 1998, Sultan accepted a commission for an Absolut Vodka iconic art ad campaign, which began in the early 1980s when Andy Warhol created Absolut’s first commissioned artwork. He’s renowned for his mastery of various graphic mediums including lithography, screenprint, wood cut, linocut, and etching.
Today, his work is featured in over 50 permanent museum collections throughout the world, including MoMA/NY; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; New York Metropolitan Museum; Whitney Museum of American Art; Reina Sofia in Madrid; and Centres George Pompidou in Paris.