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Altoon Sultan
 February 19 - March 26, 2017

Sultan’s precisely rendered small-scale paintings are near-abstractions based on her own photographs of agricultural machinery. She investigates the emotive power of form rather than narrative, and celebrates careful and close observation in her work. Her paintings are never completely non-objective because, for Sultan, “the interaction with the reality of things is so compelling; because my imagination doesn’t come close to the surprising and inventive juxtapositions of color and shape and light that I find ‘out there.’” Inspired by an exhibition of the 15th-century manuscript The Hours of Catherine of Cleves at the Morgan Library, Sultan began to paint on calfskin parchment with egg tempera in 2010. The paintings are remarkable for their strong light and clarity, and are rendered with restraint and delicacy. Despite their intimate scale, the forms in the paintings possess a dramatic and monumental presence.
The exhibition also features textile pieces which explore abstract geometric form and line, inspired in part by Tantric drawing. The artist uses a rug-hooking technique with cut strips of wool fabric she has hand-dyed to achieve vibrant and saturated colors. These works have a sense of play and invention, and the artist fully exploits the material to create her often irregular shapes as well as illusions of dimensional volume. Like varying brushstrokes, the wool loops can be hooked in multiple directions and with different colors to create a range of visual textures. Additionally, they can be trimmed to create areas of high and low relief.
Bridging her investigations into painting and textiles is a new body of work: bas-relief sculptures in painted porcelain. The work was begun in 2015 and is exhibited for the first time in this show. They were inspired by Ghiberti’s bronze doors, Persian relief sculpture at the British Museum, and especially, an exhibition of Middle Kingdom Egyptian sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The imagery is similar to that in her paintings, but becomes even more abstracted as the sculptures are painted monochromatically in matte acrylic. While form is paramount in all three bodies of work, the relief sculptures, in their precise and focused rendering, have an enhanced sense of quiet power and reserve.
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