Monday, November 26, 2012

Altoon Sultan: Playful Geometry

Blinky Palermo

I am often intrigued by images that are visually spare, although I tend to favor a measure of compositional complexity in many of my own paintings.  The work that captures and holds my interest is generally modest in its making and conveys an essential experience—sometimes meditative, sometimes playful.  Collages by Jean Arp, paintings of Blinky Palermo, or small Tantric paintings are among the gems that come to mind. 

Jean Arp

page from Tantra Song


It is in this spirit that I offer some thoughts on the work of Altoon Sultan. In recent years, Sultan has been painting intimately scaled abstractions with images derived from tools and farm implements that she encounters near her home in rural Vermont. These egg tempera on parchment paintings (some as small as 4 x 6") are elegantly composed and often spatially complex. You can see a selection of these paintings by clicking here

However, it is in Sultan’s prints and textiles that I find connections to a more minimalist aesthetic, but with a twist.  Working with iconic geometric forms, her circles, squares, and triangles are sometimes presented in symmetrical arrays, while in other works they appear to frolic across an open field. Sultan is also an avid explorer of materials, producing potato prints, cardboard prints, as well as digital prints. Her textiles include hooked wool drawings (which often incorporate egg tempera), as well as what she describes as “ruglets”, small wall hangings made from hand dyed wool hooked on linen backing. Many of the prints have a palette of subdued earth tones, while the textiles are often brightly hued. 

 The Potato Prints generally incorporate simple forms arranged symmetrically on the page and concisely titled with the name of the shapes—no pretensions here. The forms are irregular in both shape and inking, and imbued with a hand-made, humble quality.  To see more recent potato prints by Sultan, click here

Sultan, Vertical Three, 11 3/4 x 6 1/4"
Sultan, Four Square, 2012, 12 x 10"
Sultan, Five Circles, Four Squares, 2012
17 3/8 x 15" 

Once again, using an everyday material in making the Cardboard Prints, Sultan works with basic geometric forms arrayed in simple patterns. In this series, Sultan’s compositions are simultaneously pared down and rhythmic. The somewhat irregular shapes offer a sense of possibility, without complications. 

Sultan, Green Rounds, 2012, image 10x10"
Sultan, Split Circles, 2012, image 10 x 6 3/4

Sultan, Baby Blue, 2012, 16 1/2 x 28"

Sultan’s Hooked Wool Drawings can be seen as a bridge between her prints and her hooked wool ruglets (below).  Incorporating hand dyed wool as well as egg tempera on linen, these drawings leave much of the field bare, and offer a range of tactile experiences as the forms float and bounce over the ground. 
Sultan, 2012 #12, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 14 x 12"
Sultan, 2012 #16, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 14 1/2 x 12"
Sultan, 2012 #17, hand dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 15 x 11 1/4"

Although continuing to explore conversations between simple geometric shapes, Sultan’s Hooked Wool Textiles (which are intended as wall-hangings) take us in a somewhat different direction. The very tactile nature of these pieces would seem to lead us away from the minimalist sensibility of the prints, yet they are first and foremost explorations of figure and ground. The often vibrantly hued textiles are composed of numerous ‘strokes’ of hand dyed hooked wool, which create a rich texture and lush surface activity. 

Sultan, Purple Push, 2009, 10 x 21.5
Sultan, Blue/Yellow Ground, 2012, 11 x 10

Sultan, Objects #4, 2011, 9 x 15

Sultan, Red / Blue Ground, 2011, 11 x 10
Sultan, Empty Center / Blue Brown, 2011, 9 x 9

Sultan, Four pieces from the Figure/Ground series

These textiles are exquisite balancing acts -- placing simple forms in tension with one another and in tension with the edges of the image.  As with the prints, the slight irregularity of the forms allows them to breathe and also brings some levity into the formal conversations.  For me, Sultan's explorations in printmaking and textiles provide an ongoing source of visual delight, as they offer a minimalist sensibility along with a dash of wit.

Sultan is quite prolific and the images pictured here provide only a small sampling of her work.
You can see more of Sultan’s prints by clicking here and more of her textiles by clicking hereYou can also search her blog for additional images from these series.


1 comment:

  1. Fabulous! Thank you for posting this wonderful array of Altoon's rugs/ruglets/painted textiles and potato and cardboard prints. A feast for the eyes. Playful, soft-edged, colorful, and so so rich!