Bill Sullivan is an American artist.
Episode 98: Bill Sullivan is an artist working across mediums and is based in New York. He is the author of several books and is also part of Sun; a publisher/collective who produces incredible books from a coterie of fine artists such as Charlie Johnstone, Anthony Tafuro, Corey Presha, Aaron McElroy among a number of other significant artists working between photography, book-making and painting.
I first met Bill while covering his excellent Forest Hills book for American Suburb X. The book itself is something of a conundrum. Ostensibly it is about a place, the American Dream and the history of tennis, but the optics extend into something surreal, if not existential and speaks about Bill’s work at large which oscillates between a fascination for esoteric history, sport, photography and bodies. He is also foremost a painter, but his handling of photography and the archive is equally important. The Forest Hills work led to Bill being the in-house artist for the eponymous stadium which has been host to a number of high-end music gigs with the likes of Bob Dylan, Interpol, and Chance the Rapper all getting the Sullivan’s treatment on limited edition posters and designs for each event.
In the episode, Bill and I speak about his career in photography, but also emphasise at large his interests in the phenomenon of photography particularly as it relates to both Pure Country and Self Portrait With Mirrors- two vastly different bodies of work that consider the public and private uses of photography both in the historical and contemporary canon of the medium. Self Portrait With Mirrors considers how we envision our e-bodies and why we place a seemingly private image in the public sphere and what this move indicates about our need to share ourselves without intimacy or identity.
Pure Country is one of the more complex books within photography that I have been lucky enough to own. Within the book are a number of interesting examples of where art, social life, and history meet through the movements of color image-making and design. The book crosses the lives of early Russian color photography pioneer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, Native American photographer Edward Curtis, Russian-American painter Mark Rothko and a number of other historical figure and movements.
What is successful about Bill’s investigation of the imagery in the book is his work with software designer and archivist Blaise Agüera y Arcas and his ability to tie-in so many varying historical notations of color and its uses and functions. It is truly incredible and weaves a loose narrative more in-line with Bill’s interests in myth and correspondence between photography and associated mediums found within his investigations. I remember thinking it was similar in ways to the book that Mark Frost produced on Twin Peaks which also wove strange American history and trauma through the unnerved and twitching vein of our contemporary understanding of the American empire.
Our conversation was long-form and in-depth. It felt like more of a geek out than a informal conversation. To this day Bill is one of the few people that I know that can unlock and read a body of work quickly and with 100% accuracy. His in-depth historical knowledge and attitude towards looking at lateral histories informs his work and his greater intellectual pursuits.
I hope you enjoy the episode. Please check into the Sun site and Bill’s own site to pick up some of his books and check in to see what else he is up to. Pure Country itself is pure magic and I suspect that it is a book that will not be easily found available in the future. I return to it often in my own quest to understand color. I cannot say that about many books.