A discussion with artist Donald Sultan. Sultan is a painter, sculptor and printmaker who makes iconographic images with industrial materials. His work can be found in every major collection in this country and he has been the subject of solo exhibitions at a variety of museums including the Chicago Museum of Contemporary art, LACMA, the Brooklyn Museum and MoMA.
Craig: [00:00:09] This is Art Sense, a podcast focus on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. On today's episode, I speak with artist Donald Sultan. Sultan is a painter, sculptor and print maker who makes iconographic images with industrial materials. From the mid-80s to the mid-90s, he produced a series of images called "The Disaster Paintings" that I'm an enormous fan of. His work can be found in every major collection in this country, and he has been the subject of solo exhibitions at a variety of museums, including the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, LACMA, the Brooklyn Museum and MoMA. And now my conversation with Donald Sultan. Craig: [00:01:03] Donald Sultan, thank you so much for joining me today on the Art Sense podcast. Donald with with artists I usually like to start with a hypothetical, which is if you're at a dinner party and if by chance you were seated next to someone who had never heard of you or seen your work, how do you describe to them what you do and what your work looks like? Donald: [00:01:27] Well, I usually tell them to buy my book over, but if they want a quick thing, I'll say basically, I use I iconographic graphic images with industrial materials. That's what I'd say.Show More >
Craig: [00:01:40] That takes on different forms, right? Your work traditionally has kind of been divided up into, I think, what you kind of group as artificial, natural, industrial. Are those are those themes that you kind of bounce back and forth or Donald: [00:02:00] Yeah, and they cross pollinate. So but in in the main, all of those images are more or less treated the same way. They're all made with industrial materials and they're all made to be. They're all made to be work representative of work and standardization and things that repeat, except for the disaster pictures. But disaster is also repeat as we know. And people ask me now why I don't do. Revisit those disaster pictures, and I always say, well, right now, in the last few years, there have been so many disasters that it's sort of pointless. The images speak for themselves. I don't have anything to add to the fact that everything that seems to be stable and permanent has been shown to not be. And then the salt, I don't have any more to add to that. And that's every day you see that this is true. So I go on, I've gone on to other things. So basically, that's the florals were more or less flowers that were raised in hothouses, they're not wildflowers, and images that I use are more or less geometric versions of the flower of the fruit that I'm using. The black lemons that were inserted into the still lives were more or less a kind of a momento mori. But on the other hand, they existed in the still life. I made those objects, the lemons and the eggs black and put them in there. So they existed just like the fruit. So that's kind of what how to talk about meanings versus architecture, about the structures and meanings of the paradox. Craig: [00:03:54] You know, one of the things that I seem to come back to whenever I speak with artists is your work reflecting where you're from and reflecting your formative years. I don't think it's anything that is even necessarily conscious. Sometimes it's subconscious. And I've heard you talk about what life was like in your dad's tire shop in Asheville, North Carolina. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how there is some tactile things that were going on there that seemed to really reflect your work today. Donald: [00:04:30] Well, I didn't grow up in a home that was white collar in the sense that they were. They were they were working people. My father had a sort of a tire, not just a tire shop, but he had mobile tire trucks that went out and service vehicles, and they did sold airplane tires, and he had his own company that made their own tire brand. But it was all hands on, and he had a lot of men that worked for him, and I grew up working with those men. And so my basically what I felt close to was having hands on work and never was that comfortable with just the sort of illustrative quality of painting and drawing. I wanted them to be actually physically exist in space as an object. And you could that could be handled and embraced. So sometimes I would feel like, you know, I was really making a an actual thing rather than just an illustration of a thing. And I'm consistently that way. I like the weight and structure of the made furniture of the art and the also the images on the on the surface, which are more or less the meaning. I mean, someone who wants to describe these things as boxcars that carry meaning. And the things on the front should have actual physical weight, as well as visual weight to go with them, but with the the physical weight and the eye of the viewer or the eye of the artist is placed in a way that has a dialog that's not just a freight car. So I like the two things, the heaviness of the structure I call the architecture of the canvas or the panels and the fragility of the meaning that's on the front of it. And that's, you know, those gouged and drawn and heavy, and they should have visual and physical weight on the front as well as the bag. That was from a working class feeling of American art, really as a hands on nail, the spike in the railroad line work not as opposed to video or something that's more ephemeral. Craig: [00:07:01] And I feel like sometimes I hear people use the word architectural when they refer to your work, because in most cases, we're not talking about a stretched canvas. We're talking about a structure that you've built, right? And in part of its new materials, most times there's repurposed materials. Can you tell me, where did that start? Did that start in North Carolina or at the Art Institute? Or when you got to New York in seventy five, when when did you start building these structures to place these two? Donald: [00:07:38] I started, I started when I came to New York building them really because I had when I was working in college and working in art school, I had devised methods of using plastic, poured polymers and working into it or painting under it so that there was a series that looked like you were looking at this bottom of a stream with a thick kind of plastic magnifier. But to do that when I moved meant that I had to have drums of polymer and I lived in a walkup. And I said, You know, I'm not lugging barrels of polymer up the stairs, so I just trying to find a way to have the same kind of object that I would make. And I stumbled upon some guys working with linoleum tile, and I asked them how they they cut them, and he told me how. And so I got some from them and I went home and I started cutting images into it and more or less in laying images into the tile. And so I realized that to do that, I'd have to have a wooden structure to glue them to. Because they're heavy. But they gave me the feeling if I thought of it as paint, it gave me the feeling that I wanted. I could embrace the whole art. So from there, I actually inlaid linoleum floors for a couple of my friends for their kitchen. And so I started making larger version by cutting and burning and in laying imagery into the tile. And so over time, the structure that held that vertically because most tiles are meant to be flat on the floor. Donald: [00:09:22] I had to devise a glue that would hold them vertically, and then I started using the tar on the top instead of the blue glue you use to glue them on the floor, the black bull durham or whatever you call it. It's like a black glue for holding linoleum, and but it won't work vertically, so I started flipping everything around and I got between those two things. I had an enormous range. So instead of if if I made a table that looked like a factory, I could actually cut the image out and put it in there. So you really had that image and that table, you didn't just have a drawing of it. And that's kind of where I pursued that feeling. I mean, my feeling of these, I had a book out called The Theater of the Object, which incorporated my my training in theater, and I did design sets. I worked on sets, I did set painting and I acted and I was going to be in the theater. But so in a way, these were also stages because I work on them flat and vertically. And they're standardized, so basically, I haven't moved off of that dime, I have done a couple of stretched canvases. And I like those too, but I didn't do very many of them. So. You know, that's where that's where that all comes from, it just comes from a feeling that rather than. I don't really know how to say it. You know, I really feel like every painting I make is like a human that you're actually embracing rather than just talking. Craig: [00:11:05] There's a term that I hear thrown around a lot in art criticism, and that's a discussion of the picture plane. And I feel like that's something that I see you engaging with in your work. For the listener that maybe doesn't quite understand that dance, could you kind of maybe speak to how we see that at work in in your pieces? Donald: [00:11:31] Well, the thing you're talking about is the picture plane is whether it's flat or or it has perspective distance. That's basically what they're talking about. So starting about the time of Pollock flatness was where people, what they were aiming for. So they were removed from imitation. And over time. Most contemporary art is even if it uses figuration in a way, they tend to try to keep it flat. I've done paintings that I used. Actually, the perfect example of breaking that down was when I would take two pieces of linoleum that were straight as like a kind of a tan and a blue. I put them together and I had the sky and the sea, and you had incredible depth and you had absolutely flat surface. It was not really that it was only an illusion. So that was a breakthrough. In a way, I did a few of those. You can see that every now and then there are certain places in Italy or other places where they take rock that they find and then they can polish it. And it's the landscape. And they were big in modernist furniture and architecture, and like Frank Lloyd Wright and so on, you could put these marble or these stone polished pieces over the mantel as a picture. And it really looks like a fantastic landscape, but it's just the rocks that form that look and the linoleum did that. Donald: [00:13:13] So I had some where I had the two put together two pieces together, or maybe four four pieces, depending on the size. And then I would take a hammer and knock a piece off the horizon where you could see the masonite it was glued to and it looked like a land in the distance. So you had this incredible Trump LOI that was totally illusory. There was nothing could be flatter than a piece of linoleum. So that's basically the the dialog between the picture planes, how to do that. And sometimes in the disaster pictures, there's perspective in some of them, and I use three point perspective basically that the easiest perspective to draw and which I considered standard like the linoleum, I considered it a standard way of making depth. But mostly once they were done, the surface would be almost impenetrable and chaotic, and it was hard to make out the image. And I wanted that because the feeling if you're in a catastrophe when it's happening, it's confusing. And I wanted the paintings to be confusing in that way. So that you felt you were actually in the middle of that. But when I moved to doing the still life, the big still life paintings I wanted, I had to figure out how to make a giant still life. Donald: [00:14:40] Not look like just a giant picture of a lemon, for example, like you'd see on a billboard. So normally when you see an eight foot yellow lemon on a billboard, your mind would reduce it to the size of the lemon, you get the idea it's a picture of a lemon. But this thing, by being so heavy and being put in that position, it became an abstraction and it became something else. And that's the kind of thing that always fascinated me about those. I would put a black lemon or black eggs in there, and I can pretty much do what I wanted with those still lives. Yet they were still had. Each fruit had the kind of volume and weight as if you were really looking at sculpture, but it was on a painting and it had the weight of a visual weight of a heavy sculpture. So that's you know, that's the kind of thing when you come up against a blank canvas, you have to decide what you're going to do. And they say some of the hardest things to do when you're painting is to get the things, Della said is to get the paint from the can to the canvas. And that's an ideological movement. Everything you do. Craig: [00:15:51] You know, I know Anish Kapoor has purchased the rights to Vantablack. I can only imagine how you would use black so black that it almost has the optical illusion of of being a void. Where does this love of of soot and black? Is it a visceral compulsion for you? Because I mean, it seems like you love the weight of black. Donald: [00:16:17] Yeah, I I don't really care about that color black that he has. I can achieve what I want with what's available. I don't need some special thing. I've never used it or seen it. But the black lemon etchings that I made that were shown in the modern in the 80s, those do the same function. I thought of those as socks in the eye. And they really do hit you in the eye, and they're both a void and a heavy presence. They did both of that and that was a black ink. It did what I needed it to do. It didn't need to be black or I'm sure it would have been nice to see it that way. I don't I have no idea how that would have affected anything. I think this would have been the same, the same effect. I can't imagine, I guess, the idea if you can paint things so black, you can. You know, but put it on yourself and be invisible. But I don't know. I've never seen it. I've never seen anybody use it, so I don't know. I've never seen it. Yeah. Craig: [00:17:17] The most interesting example I've seen of it is actually applying it to a sculpture in this three d form looks like a silhouette. And as you walk around that three d form, it looks like the silhouette is animated because from whatever angle, it always looks flat. That's that's intriguing to me. Donald: [00:17:37] Yeah, I've never seen it, so I'll just take your word for it. I have a lot of blood sculptures that work like that. Craig: [00:17:43] So tell me about your printmaking. Your body of work includes sculpture. You know, we can call them paintings, but they're really creations. They're objects. They're almost like reliefs because they're coming off the walls. But tell me about your printmaking. I know that you have been using a process on copper plates that's a little bit different than some folks that do printmaking. Maybe tell us a little bit about your process there. Donald: [00:18:11] Well, the first, the first time, what? I haven't done etchings for a long time, but the first ones I did with the were. I guess the first ones I did were small tulips. And they were done, it's a little series. Uh, I was I decided that I had been drawing tulips with charcoal like I ended up with the black lemons too. And because I wanted to make natural looking things like tulips become compression and sooty made like like they were made with soot from a factory. And then the lemons I did because they were taking charcoal or something and compressing it so densely that it had that weight and void at the same time, at the same time, I was trying to break down the edges. So when I went large with those, I used roofing, copper. Which is slightly softer, and it's also not as polished, so it has a tooth on the naked, on the naked copper. So when you ink it, you're going to have a kind of ground that will, no matter how much you wipe it, you're going to have a slight ground to it. So it was not just white. And then I did something, which I believe has never been done before. I use the aqua tint as powder. I didn't most people when you do Aquitaine, you melt it and then you use stop out to do certain things and you work with, it's melted on the plate. Donald: [00:19:51] You draw on it in different versions of acids and so on. But these I did. The whole plate was dusted like soot, and I took paint brushes and I cleaned off around the lemon so that the edge was not hard. It was drawn sort of in reverse, and then I melted it where where the black was going to be. And that by doing that, you had some of the brushed rows and stick into the imperfections of the copper. So when we etched it in the acids, you came up with almost a black, but not quite almost like you see the images of the sun. You have a kind of gas coming off the edge. They're not hard edges. And it almost looks like a cave painting. And I did that because the etchings to me were were again industrial. It was the materials used for buildings. Now I've been using Syria graphs and which I like as well, because that's what you print with you print broadsheets, you can print what I did lino cuts in France, you know, the guy was also made theater tickets and posters and stuff. It's just an industrial machine. And I think the beauty of Prince is that ideally you should make a prince so that you can make as many as you want in an addition, and they'll all be the same. I like that I don't believe in doing mono prints or things like that, I like the fact that print making whatever you do is something that you should be able to do or should be able to do over and over again. Donald: [00:21:42] So again, it's all part of the idea of mass production, even though they're limited editions. I love I love that fact about printmaking and, you know, thinking of toulouse-lautrec and lithography. All those posters say once he did the first one, they could make many of those posters. But there still art. I think that's great. You know. So that's where that all comes on. I do a lot of printing that would block to especially the Japanese woodblock blocking to me, that's that's like the lemons in a way that's a kind of washes of color that are soft and very few people can do those printing be the printers that do that. Mostly, the Japanese can do that. That's a special kind of printing. And I really loved that. But it's very rare to find somebody to do it. And I haven't made very many of those. I've made most of them at Tyler Graphics, and then I had a printer for years who could do with me. And they're just beautiful. Like the drawings, like watercolors, they look like watercolors and you know, it's a on wood but magnificent piece. I find it just as interesting as painting, and I love the paintings I do are kind of like, Craig: [00:22:55] Oh, sure, I mean, you're dealing with again, issues of reproduction and series, and it sounds like even within your printing process, you're attracted to maybe less pristine precision and more pushing the bounds of of that medium in a way that really kind of appreciates and gravitates towards texture and imperfection. Donald: [00:23:21] Yeah, I started using flocking for in paintings and prints, and I really love the fact that I could take. We could do flocking, black flocking and then we could print over it and you had the same feel of charm. So in the prints, I can have the same weight that you find on the paintings. And so I used blocking a lot. Now some other people have started using it to for printing it. But it's funny because it's, you know, originally blocking was designed to imitate what they call the what's it called Craig: [00:24:03] Like velvet or, Donald: [00:24:05] Well, it's how they made patterns of deco with velvet, where they would iron a pattern into the velvet. And you had, you know, wallpaper and you had furniture that you know, you can't vacuum it ever, even though it's made in the thirties because it'll disturb the pattern, but is permanent. So it was meant to imitate velvet, just as linoleum was meant originally to imitate marble. And I liked using those things, you know, I never went to Astroturf, but I suppose it's possible, but I like the ideas of these, these things. Flocking this, I think the first time I ever really got involved with flocking was when I would come up to New York. I'm sure it existed in other places, but I've come to New York, it was a thing called Ted Steakhouse, which I thought was the height of great food. It was like a fast food place. They, you know, they did. The walls were made like the old Western hotels, you know, that had that kind of red, velvety looking wallpaper with patterns in it. I had used it for paintings, I made a fuzzy dice that were hanging more or less looked like they were hanging on the painting, and so I needed something to make the buzz. And I came up with flocking, so I had kind of hairy, fuzzy dice. And then from there on, it went all over the place. I started using it a lot because it's beautiful color. It's very beautiful colors, and they're specific to the flocking they manufactured. And we're using it a lot in printing. Craig: [00:25:45] So hearing you talk about the fuzzy dice reminds me of just how much your work deals with the solid versus the void. Negative shapes, negative space. There's been a whole body of your work that involves circles that you know are kind of applied to the surface, then use all of the value and then peel back up this pristine circle. You know, whether that's in the form of dice or dominoes or even, you know, berries on on a branch? Yeah. Can you tell us kind of what what attracts you to that and how you use that? Donald: [00:26:22] Well, the idea that I've been working with now with that is called mimosa paintings and drawings, and they're based on the little yellow mimosas. You find the south of France and they grow in the mountains, and I've been working with that for a while. But what I love about it is the again, it's kind of like having the hand. The and the machine working together, I mean, they could easily be wires, you know, electrical wires that have those circles on to the spine between the negative and the positives, or they separate wires one from another so they don't touch the tangle of those with those kind of little berries on them, you know? But it's meant to be a more or less a sort of a manufactured naturalism. And I really like doing it because it's surprising to me when I do it, every one of them is surprising. And I always want to be surprised when I'm working on a painting. I like to feel that. As I approached the painting, it begins to loom over me whatever size it is, but the approach of a painting should have a feeling that you're approaching a sculpture and it has to loom over you and give you the feeling of its power when you approach it. So I work on these things and in various ways it has that qualities are the first ones I did. Donald: [00:27:56] I was trying to recreate the drawings I had, and I wasn't sure how I was going to do it. So I had been using the little little sticker dots on the drawings and then using charcoal. So I started working with the tar and the circles, and then I kept adding more and more and then paint and this and that, and the first one I did, which is now at the Fort Worth museum. They got it, and it's really got a lot of layers of handwork over these machine dots, which are kind of like taking something that, you know, precious and shooting it full of holes. But anyhow, somebody looked at and they said, Well, how did you come up with that? And I said, Well, I have a philosophy that you can't fail if you don't know what you're doing. Hmm. It's only when you know exactly what you're going to make that you can fail because it becomes a just a shtick, just become something you can knock off. And it is very easy for people to relax when they're painting. You know, they once they know what they're doing, you can just keep making them various forms. But I kind of like the idea of each group being different. That's surprising to me. And even if I don't at the end, I think, well, maybe that was two years of pursuing something that may not be really that great. Donald: [00:29:23] I don't know if that's going to be the case in 20 years. They might look back at those things and think they're better than the other things you never know. But after a while, I evolved them into something else because I don't want to make them anymore. And these are what I'm in the middle of doing now, and I'm just in the verge right now of changing that again for this group of paintings. So I love that idea of constantly surprising myself. It's like meeting a new person that you like, and then there's times you meet people and you think, Oh, right, that's what the painting is. To me, it's a living object and it's the only thing that's like that. I think if you if you see a pile of rocks on the side of the street and an artist put them there, you'll know it's art. Rather than just a pile of rocks, how you know? I don't know, but that's the magic of it. That's why I call it the theater of the object. It has an ability to take all the thoughts and energy you put into it and give it back to you forever. I just love that about painting. Craig: [00:30:29] Some artists that would have been as as long into your practice as you may find themselves just conceptually feeding the dogs dog food and having studio assistants do a lot of the execution. But my sense of your practice and you can tell me more about this is that you kind of thrive in the process with your sleeves rolled up. I've heard you say that, you know, don't make new ideas, discover them right that, you know, I've also heard you say that the more that you study technique, the more your your work is going to become like someone else's. So I feel like you kind of thrive in in this isolation, you know, in your studio and you're there on a path of discovery. Can you tell us about that? I know you probably still open yourself to seeing other people's work, but how do you channel it in a way that it's your process, it's your discovery? Donald: [00:31:26] Well, first of all, I want to say that I do have assistants who work on the painting quite a bit, but they only can do follow my instructions. I mean, I set it all up, and then there's just work like priming something or painting the white backgrounds and stuff. So. I mean, there's other people that help, but the final thing and the work itself is all mine. And I invented this way. I accepted my quirkiness know and I find that generally speaking, my work always looks better if it's not shared with other people's work. But that's just the way, you know, it's like nobody likes the sound of their own voice. Or the way they look on film. But generally speaking, I think that you, you evolve with what you're doing is like hacking your way through a jungle, you know, it's you don't want to hit over an alligator there or a snake this alive that could get you and you don't want to get into quicksand, but you don't know because you just have to hack your way through. And I feel that. You that's the way it is when you're painting, you're hacking your way through your mind and your ideas, but you know to a certain extent that there's not quicksand there, and I know that jungle terrain better now than I might have some years ago. But going through where there was quicksand is how you discover these things and how you discover your path. So. I don't know what else I can say about that, I just keep following the paintings to tell me what to do. Donald: [00:33:05] I don't really impose more or less myself on them. I start with an idea, but the painting will say, OK, stop. Or the painting will say, no, keep going with this, you know, don't don't stop. You need to do this or do the stop here and do another painting. And I learned that actually when I was friends with a young woman artist, that was very close to me and she was a really terrific artist and she asked me to come to her studio and she showed me her painting and I I said, God, you know, that's just great. And about three months later, she asked me to come look at her and I looked, and she'd painted out the painting and painted another painting. And it looks great. And then finally, after four or five times, I said, You know, you had four great paintings, and none of them are better than the other one. But the reason you kept cutting them out and doing me over again is because you didn't have self-confidence. But you in the end, all of them were good because she was good. But it's interesting to me, you know, it's a question of like, stop and do another one, you'd be surprised. But, you know, it's just the nagging feeling that you have to keep doing something differently because. But you didn't really, you know, Craig: [00:34:22] There does seem to be a fragile mental state there for for many painters wanting people's feedback. But if you if you don't get the right feedback, some painters can get off track for months or years. Donald: [00:34:37] Bad to have people come into your studio while you're working on something. I really feel like it's bad to have people come in until you're done with a painting. Anything they say can inform you or change something that you don't want, and you shouldn't have things in your mind. But once you've finished it, you can have somebody come in and then talk or have a cigaret and do whatever you want. But I don't want somebody to know or put any feedback at all into something I'm working on. I don't like it. Like somebody's fault in your goddamn stew before you finish making it, and it's ruined it. Craig: [00:35:13] So I know it's been said before that you shouldn't let somebody know what you're going to name your baby until after the baby's born because they won't argue with you about the baby's name once... But they'll give you all sorts of opinions before the baby's born. Donald: [00:35:28] Yeah, well, you shouldn't decide that you see the baby anyway. Craig: [00:35:31] Right? Exactly. I find that, you know, a lot of times when you're done with a painting, it kind of needs to mature on the wall. You know, I find if you can live with it for a week, 10 days, two weeks and you're not obsessed with something that you feel like you need to change, then it's probably done. But it's hard to say that it's done and right at that. At a specific moment. It's it's probably the hardest thing that artists deal with is knowing when a painting is finished. What do you think? Donald: [00:36:00] Well, you have to finish that. You have to stop painting it when it's complete, when it's not a closed system. Hmm. I used to say there's nothing more depressing than a finished painting. So every painting should have another lead to another painting. You should always say, OK, you stop, do another painting and see what you would do differently. But if you keep working on something until you think it's finished completely, then it's probably a bad thing. It has to be open ended and it has to be one wonder in it as to what. Where does that come from and where does it go and has to give possibilities? It's like a person who has a fixed opinion. And they're not very interesting people. It can't change their mind. I mean, the most wonderful thing is to listen to somebody who gives you a story or something and the story is open ended, right? That's why I often I think that most movies is art or lazy people. Because it's done in, you know, beginning in the beginning, start, middle and end and the end wraps it up and it's done. You can go out and yeah, I just think it has to be open ended. Craig: [00:37:15] I think I've just about taken up all the time that I've asked for, but I can't. I can't go without asking you about the Donald Sultan Art Hotel. I'm not going to talk to that many people who have a project like that living out there. Can you tell me how that project came about? Donald: [00:37:33] That project came about to a collector and a person I was working with at Knoedler at the time. And originally, the he wanted to make a series of art hotels in which artists would do the decor of the hotel. The whole thing. I just hang art in it. So he came to me and he said what I do want and I said, yeah, he said he wanted to do one in Chicago and then in Florida and various places, and he had different people. We wanted to do one in Rome, and he had artists for each one. He wanted me to do Chicago. And I said, Oh, that sounds great. I'd love to do that. But then something happened and the person that he he was making a hotel in Budapest. And it was becoming a problem for him, I mean, at the core of it and the people were fighting the designers and the architects, and he asked me if I would just make that an art hotel. And I said, Well, I would do that if I didn't give up my chance to do one in Chicago. He said, No, no, you wouldn't. So I said, OK. So I flew. To Budapest. And I mean, we had, you know, like an eight hour flight, something like that, like nine hour flight and we arrived in Budapest, we went to a hotel. And. I tried to go to sleep, take a nap, you know, but they said, no, no, no, there's, you know, we need you downstairs to talk so you can see what's going on. So I walked into a room filled with people. There was the builders, the architects, the people doing the design of the interiors, the this and that. Donald: [00:39:18] And he said, he said this is Donald Sultan, and he's taking over the look of the interior of the hotel. And you all have to do what he said. And I thought, Well, wait a minute, you know, that was not what I was. I did not realize I thought I was just going to look to see where I would put artwork. Not that, not that I would do that. So then he said, we want to we want to put a fountain in the lobby. And so I said, well, yeah, that's a great idea, but it turns out they had not built the floors of the lobby to be able to support a fountain. It's heavy and they needed water and green. You know, all this stuff. So I had to figure out how to do a fountain in the middle of this place. But then basically, so then I had to do a tour of the place. And they showed me what they were doing, what they wanted to do and. I, you know, I basically said, you have to get rid of all this furniture. None of this furniture is good and I did it, but they had these end tables in their room. They were showing as a showroom and beside the bed by the tables. And it was sort of shaped like, you know, I sat on it and I said, and they said, Well, what do you think? I said, Well, I have to think right now because I'm sitting on the toilet. Because the the that's exactly what the end tables looked like, they looked like a toilet. Donald: [00:40:50] That kind of oval. So getting rid of all of this and told them how to do that, they couldn't use the bathrooms the way they were doing it because you can't have glass counters on a on a. Problems on a sink and a bathroom, because everything shows toothpaste and everything will be stuck to the glass, so gradually I ended up doing the whole thing. I told him colors they use on the furniture. I told them because they had the back where these fish are these old 18th century, what were fishermen houses and they were painted in the colors of the Hungarian. Those places, they were kind of pinks and blues. They were really beautiful paint job. So I said, we're just do the interior and rhyme those colors that we'll see through the glass of the windows and make it all come forward. So we ended up doing that did all the carpeting. I did all the the design of the rooms. I did carpets for all the rooms and I did put art and everything. I was really an incredible project. And I thought that I was going to have a piece of the hotel that was part of the deal. But somehow or another, the guy went into bankruptcy and some other company took it over, and so somehow the thing that I had signed with him wasn't really valid. But anyway, I did the thing and I still my name on it, and it's a gorgeous hotel really has a lot of art in it. I mean, all the carpets are are fun and it's nice. It's it's a very, very popular hotel. Craig: [00:42:30] But I mean, your fingerprints are everywhere, right? I mean, like, I mean, this goes back to your theatrical background in production design. I mean, your carpets, the interior design, you know, right down to teapots and service plates and dishes, right? Donald: [00:42:50] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, we did. We did. Playing cards and the rooms all have carpeting that are based there, slightly different colors on sort of alternating things I can't remember. Oh yeah. All the rooms have basically the same color, but the the image on it is one of as if you drop spools of thread. And so there's white thread going through them. There's spools, a thread and then there's like gray sewing needles threaded that are laying on the floor, you know, embedded in part of the design of the carpet. And so every now and then you feel like you have to pick something up. You know, it looks like you dropped a piece of paper or something on the floor, but it's just the design is just a white spool. And they're really fun, they're really nice carpets. And I just pared down the colors of the room and all the bathrooms that we put a little sort of a cast iron grill like a flower trellis, a cast iron, flowers in there, you know, it's like a door, a grill or a window and a decorative window in a, you know. The old buildings. And then. I think the I don't really remember exactly what the sinks are, but the. It's all pretty simple, and they're very nice. I have dominoes for black and write domino carpets that I had made in France. I had those reissued for the wall, the wall carpeting in the lobbies, the black dominoes with white dots on a gray bag. And there's a lot of drawings of color. There are buttons and blue black buttons and blue carpets in all the lobbies. And each room has two prints or three prints. And so the two rooms together will have different prints. So if you have somebody combine combines the rooms, they're not the same. So, you know, I did it so that nobody would have, you know, the same room if they were together, they would have a different thing to look at. It was a lot of work. Really interesting. Craig: [00:45:07] Yeah, you make me want to visit Budapest and Donald: [00:45:11] It's really nice. Yeah, it's nice. Well, I mean, in those days, Budapest was different. I think they have a different government now in Hungary, and I'm not quite sure how fun it would be. It's really changed. I'm sure it's much more cosmopolitan in a way than it was really, you know? It was an interesting place there was in the Kempinski Hotel where we stayed while we were building that, which is really sort of a fancy German hotel, it's really nice. But there was a shoemaker in there. It made hand-made shoes. And I thought, no, I can't pass this up, you know, so I had to made me a pair of pigskin oxfords. And there were $21 here, and I still have them, and there's some of the most comfortable and beautiful shoes, and he's still there, I think. But now they're, you know, $2000 or something like shoe because they're like John libbers. They're handmade with a blast and all that, you know? Yes, like that, but there was, you know, a few places to eat and. You know, you had this sort of group of artists that were still Bohemians, the older men, you know, the intellectual guys who would come and have dinner with us and talk about art, something you won't find any more here. Craig: [00:46:32] I really appreciate your time and how how generous you've you've been with your time today. I can tell you that you're your disaster paintings. I I look at a lot of art and your disaster paintings are among my very favorite. And, you know, right up there with, you know, my love of Anselm Kiefer. I mean, the the something about it, you know, each person has some sort of esthetic, you know, something really resonates with you and your disaster paintings are just, you know, I think, stellar. And I, you know, it's been a real pleasure for me to to spend this time with you today, and you'd be willing to open up about your work and your process. And I really appreciate it. Donald: [00:47:23] Thank you. Craig: [00:47:30] That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to art since you can find the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rates show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. If you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read a transcript and find other bonus features. You can go to Canvia Art. And click on the Podcast tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at email@example.com, thanks for listening.
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