Donald Sultan made a series of charcoal drawings, while under lockdown in the USA in the Spring of 2020. As with much of Sultan’s work, the drawings wrestle with the ambition to unite both abstraction and figuration. In subject, the compositions also look to unite two further antithetical concepts: society’s newfound appreciation of nature in the midst of a global pandemic and the huge social upheaval that has occurred simultaneously.
In the piece, May 31 2020, Sultan continues his signature graphic and restrained investigation of form. This piece looks specifically towards the Camellia flower, rendering the usually light and silken petals of the flower in heavy charcoal, obscured by a repeated pattern of circles of empty space. These ‘flowers made of soot’, as Sultan refers to them, have a quality of disintegration, that is only heightened by their obfuscation by the repeated circular motif.
Sultan has been working with the circle as symbol for many years, most recently using them to joyously represent the mimosa flower. In lockdown, however, the artist has inverted this element. Instead of illustrating the object, Sultan has turned their usage inside out, so now the circles appear to interfere with the objectivity of the composition and negate a clear reading of the flowers.
For Sultan, this image is ‘like seeing the world through tears.’ The white dots that disrupt the surface of the work have, for Sultan, come to represent all the uncertainties that have come to define life in 2020