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Ryan Lee opens first exhibition of Donald Sultan's Mimosa paintings
Donald Sultan, Mimosa June 14 2018. © Donald Sultan. Courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.

NEW YORK, NY.- Ryan Lee opened Donald Sultan: Mimosa, Paintings and Drawings, an exhibition of new work by the acclaimed artist. Inspired by a gift of mimosa blossoms he received from a friend in the South of France, Sultan began using the structure of the mimosa plant to continue his interrogation of the space between abstraction and representation, the organic and the industrial, as well as the history of modern art. The exhibition includes large-scale drawings and monumental paintings, ranging from four to eight feet wide, respectively. This is the first exhibition of Sultan’s Mimosa paintings and the show is accompanied by a catalogue.

Sultan executed the paintings and drawings simultaneously, and as a result they inform each other. Working out the density of charcoal and conte in the drawings first led Sultan to the paintings in which he uses roofing tar and enamel to create a richly textured surface. He continues his use of industrial materials, such as Masonite and vinyl along with the tar and enamel, to construct his paintings, which in their scale, heft, and dimensionality, are sculptural as well as architectural. Their exposed sides and edges reveal the process of their creation. Unlike prior series in which Sultan carved directly into the surface of the painting to generate his imagery, in the Mimosas he builds up the surface through a series of layering techniques applied directly to the Masonite.

In Mimosa Jan 16 2019, a cascade of black and brown leaves washes across the eight-by- eightfoot Masonite surface. The range in depth and luminosity of the dark palette is the result of washing the tar with turpentine after its application—a technique Sultan borrowed from his groundbreaking Disaster paintings of the 1980s. Combining fluid gestural brushwork with the precision of stencils and decals, Sultan creates a composition that is at once explosive and contained.

Color plays an especially prominent role in these new works as exemplified by the lush green foliage in Mimosa With Orange and Green Oct 3 2018. In other paintings, passages of light blue suggest the sundrenched skies of Southern France, and Sultan’s mimosa blossoms range in color from dark blue, to orange, deep green, and indigo.

The circular forms that Sultan makes use of visualize the interconnectedness across the organic and artificial realms, and link this new body of work to prior series, such as the Morning Glories, Buttons, and Dominoes of the 1990s. The flattened discs have served as the center of a flower, the holes in a button, or in the case of the Mimosas, an entire blossom. Sultan has said, “the closer you work from reality the more abstract things can get.” In distilling the mimosa plant into the fundamental geometry of its leaves and blossoms, it becomes something conceptual. It functions as a vehicle for the exploration of visual ideas— the “armature,” as Sultan has called it, for a “gestural thought of leaves in general.”

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