Billy Sullivan, Billy Sullivan: Flowers & Birds, Sagaponack - The Madoo Conservancy - opening in July 3
3 July 2021 - 14 August 2021

Billy Sullivan
Birthday Peonies
Pastel on Paper
108 x 76,2 cm / 42.5 x 30 in


The Madoo Conservancy is pleased to present Billy Sullivan: Flowers & Birds, an exhibition of ten paintings and drawings. The exhibition will be on view in the Summer Studio from July 3 through August 14, 2021. Madoo is open to the public Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 12 – 4:30pm.

The diary is a piece of lacework or a spider web. It is apparently made up of more empty space than filled space. But for the person who is writing, the discrete points of reference that I set down on paper hold an invisible galaxy of other memories around them. Thanks to association of ideas and allusions, their shadows and virtual existence linger for a while. Gradually they evaporate, like a flower losing its scent.
— Philippe Lejeune, “The Continuous and Discontinuous,” in On Diary
Billy Sullivan has long described his work as “basically a diary of my life.” Cookie Mueller, writing in the early 1980s, called Sullivan a “chronologist,” which remains an apt description today, in his seventy-fifth year. Eight of the ten still-life compositions here were completed within the past year — a time of profound upheaval that has nevertheless seemed, for so many of us, also intractably stilled, indefinitely paused.

These recent works are marked by brief moments of focus and oblique clues as to location or significance. One painting, entitledOysters, Puerto Escondido, serves as a particular milepost. Though finished in 2021, the scene it portrays took place in March 2020 — the last trip before lockdown, the first vacation with an old friend who became a new companion.

By comparison, the six floral paintings and pastels also dated 2021 seem housebound, far less socialized except for a recurrent murmur of citation and self-quotation. For example, the “birds” in the exhibition’s title appear only as shorthand re-renderings of one of Sullivan’s own large ink drawings, which he depicts as competing spatially with the windows of his East Hampton dining room.Easter Mondayattentively notes a large Stephen Mueller painting in the background, while both the breakfast setting and a Mexican vase of tulips imply the offstage presence of a guest.

Another 2020 pastel directly cites Madoo.Bob’s Vasepresents a mysterious object from Robert Dash’s collection, an antique-looking, bulging glass vessel equipped with verdigris brass handles, which somehow manages to hold its own against the scrawled red walls of the summer house living room. This chromatic intensity finds an echo in the exhibition’s oldest and largest work,Klaus in Tulum, a 2003 painting that catches Sullivan’s late husband naked in bed, beneath a translucent canopy of mosquito netting, yet nearly upstaged by the foreground’s vibrant table and pineapple crown.

Perhaps the exhibition might also be summarized by another idea from the writings of French scholar and theorist Philippe Lejeune: For a diarist, the diary itself is a protected place of refuge, a space of “self-hospitality” — or, as we have learned to say today, self-care.