Jan 20 – Mar 26, 2022


“I think of myself as a very self-conscious artist, one in control of – and aware of – composition, color relationships, spatial relationships, light. Yet, after working for many years, there is still a welcome factor of surprise, of the unexpected: each year when I go out to gather images, I see differently; an image that excited me last year goes unnoticed this year. Things pop into my ‘visual ray,’ as Thoreau would say, because they’ve come ‘within the range of [my] intellectual ray,’ my intellectual ray changing with time. Without my clear intention, an image can transform into metaphor, into meanings and associations which add richness to the work. Then there are the bodies of work themselves – each medium has a very different mood, as though the medium controls the content.

If I count my undergraduate education, I’ve been painting for 50 years. In that time my paintings have changed enormously, going from narrative figure compositions to ‘portraits’ of Victorian architecture, to agricultural landscape, to a kind of still life using agricultural implements as subjects. I remain attached to agriculture as subject matter because of its production of food, and for the complex environmental issues around that production; I love visiting farms and talking to farmers. What has also stayed constant from the beginning is my precise approach to making form: form that is closed and linear, rather than painterly and open. Where I used to aim for a perceptual realism, as in my landscape paintings, now my paintings are less about a perceived reality than they are about a sense of touch, of a physical reality, leading to, I hope, an uncanny sense of presence. What begins as a depiction of a mundane object may be transformed through an intense focus on light and form into metaphor, or into a realism that is heightened and becomes surreal. This is the part of making a painting––the surreal presence, the metaphor––that I don’t feel that I can control. For my recent paintings I am trying to find simpler and stranger compositions, so as to invite a strong tactile presence. Looking at a work in progress I often say to myself ‘how weird,’ which is good: strangeness provides a jolt, a push away from the ordinary, and an opening for questions.

The relief sculptures use a single color, clearly highlighting the responses that we have to a red, or blue, or green. My color choices aren’t arbitrary: I attempt to choose a color that speaks to the form. These low reliefs are in a way paradoxical: by existing in actual space, they are more real than either my paintings or drawings, yet at the same time the move into sculpted form, with light playing over its surfaces, makes them more abstract, less tethered to the world as it is. For instance, I would never include drapery in a painting because it would move the painting too close to ‘realism,’ while in the reliefs, the medium is abstract enough to overcome what I would see as a danger. The source of the drapery images is generally agricultural plastic, but in the relief sculpture they relate to all the reliefs of clothing in the history of art; people have an emotional response to it because of its reference to the body, and because of its allusion to softness and grace.

 In the hooked wool textiles, the graphic imagery is fully abstract, inspired in part by the simple geometries of Tantric drawings. The Imagery is developed through numerous abstract pencil sketches and are created with a rug-hooking technique employing strips of wool, hand-dyed in vibrant and saturated colors. The series has a range of textural surfaces created by directionality in the looped strips, and by areas trimmed in high or low relief. Color is gradated in some to create the illusion of movement and dimensional volume.

All three bodies of work wander the valley between representation and abstraction, each one circling a different area, kicking over rocks to see what surprise may lay beneath.”

- Altoon Sultan


Altoon Sultan received both an MFA and BA from Brooklyn College in New York. She is the recipient of numerous awards including two National Endowment for the Arts grants, an Academy Award in Art from the American Academy, and a medal for painting from the National Academy of Design where she was elected a member in 1995.  Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Yale University Art Gallery; the Library of Congress; and the Fleming Museum of the University of Vermont. Sultan’s work has been included in numerous exhibitions including the National Museum of Women in the Arts; The Philbrook Museum of Art; the Hood Museum; the Fleming Museum; the San Francisco Museum of Art; and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; among others