Tahitian Paradise

July 5 - August 5, 2020

It is quite an extraordinary feat to be able to capture the beauty and essence of an environment without ever having set foot there. An intuitive, almost subliminal connection to the universe would explain one’s ability to imagine and record the mystical sceneries that exist in other parts of the world. Such were the methods and skills of painter Maurice Sullins. Entirely self-taught without ever having left Illinois, Sullins imagined and graced us with his dreamlike visions of the universe, filled with poetry and color.


The selection of paintings in this exhibition,Tahitian Paradise, are some of his very early works, made within the first months of his sudden creative urge to paint when he turned 60 in 1970. Although Sullins never went to Tahiti and it is unknown why Polynesia was the starting point in his short painting career, his magnificent narratives about the island and its surroundings, along with his whimsical titles offer a glimpse into his astonishing creative process.

Maurice Sullins was an airplane waxer in Joliet, Illinois, who began to paint at sixty years old. Legend has it a dream about a water fountain in France first compelled him to paint. Entirely self-taught, armed with an insatiable appetite for reading and a vivid imagination, he became a true master of his craft with a total command of color, composition and technique. Over the course of a short career spanning fifteen years (1970-1985), Sullins produced some 1,200 paintings, most of which have never been seen before. Born on March 26, 1910 in Medora, Illinois, Sullins was the third child of Methodist minister Van Buren Sullins and Jennie Le Grand, whose French heritage greatly influenced the younger Sullins’ work. After receiving a Bachelor’s in Geography at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne in 1934, Maurice moved to Joliet with his wife Mary, where he worked various jobs before settling in as an aircraft detailer at the municipal airport.Although Sullins rarely traveled beyond Joliet, he embraced his French heritage and considered himself an American-French painter, often signing his paintings using his mother and grandmother’s maiden names, Le Grand and Le Sueur. His works, set in brilliantly imagined scenes in Tahiti, France, Spain and Chicago, often reference European or American masters. While he never copied other artists, he transformed and construed famous recognizable motifs into his own fresh and unique painterly language, believing his purpose was to continue their great work. Sullins used acrylic on canvas or canvas board, largely worked with 1½ inch and 2 ½ inch brushes and never sketched before painting. He employed many original techniques in his work. For instance, he manipulated his pigment with combs or brush handles and worked with masking tape to form elements of his composition in what he referred to as “X-outs.” He would often hold a paint tube close to the canvas, squeeze a drop of paint out and then pull it up, an approach he called the “eye stop.” His methods of applying paint had many terms including the “Naughty Line,” a horizon line representative of Mother Earth that forms the lower back and buttocks of a female figure; a wavy line squeezed directly from the tube was a “Master Stroke”; a “Grand Stroke” was a horizontal line made in one sweep and a “Grand Sweep” was a horizontal line that went off the canvas and “into eternity.” Sullins painted obsessively and never showed his work. It wasn’t until he stopped painting in 1986 that he met a columnist at the Chicago Tribune who wrote an enthusiastic article about his life and work, attracting collectors and resulting in a retrospective at the Illinois State Museum in 1988. The exhibition received critical acclaim and the following year, the SEITA Museum in Paris held a solo show for him during the centennial celebration of the Eiffel Tower. The Frank J. Miele Gallery in New York City then represented his work for several years. Maurice Sullins died on March 21, 1995 at 84 years old. His family placed the paintings in storage, where they remained out of sight for twenty-two years.


In 2017, White Color became the official representative of the Sullins estate and presented his first exhibition since 1995 in Chicago that same year. Produced in partnership with the French Consul General of Chicago, the show was met with great excitement, drawing a large crowd and marking the beginning of a series of events re-introducing his works to the public. White Color Studio's exhibitions of Maurice Sullins are world premieres for many of the works being shown. For additional questions or to inquire about a painting, please send an email.