Achi Sullo (1922-2013)
Achillo “Achi” Sullo, was born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1922. A first-generation Italian, he graduated from Dorchester High School and served four years in the Engineering Corps. He was a veteran of WWII and a D-day survivor. He began his artistic exploration by painting camouflage patterns onto army vehicles. This was common practice for enlisted artists in the war effort. Ironically, Ellsworth Kelly, best known for his hard-edge painting, also served in the war beginning 1943 and joined the 603rd Engineers Camouflage Battalion, which filled its ranks with artists and was known as the Ghost Army. The GI Bill enabled Sullo to attend The Museum School of Fine Arts, Boston, for four years and a fifth year of study in Italy and France. He graduated from the Museum School in 1949. Kelly also attended The Boston Museum School around the same time starting in 1946.
The Boston Museum School of Fine Arts produced a number of artistic luminaries of the American abstract movement who all attended around the same time as Achi Sullo (class of 49). Most notably artists Ellsworth Kelly (class of 48), Cy Twombly (class of 49).
A master of color and design, Sullo dedicated a lifetime to his painting and sculpture. A modernist throughout his career, his early works of the 1950s were influenced by post-impressionism and expressionism. This was probably due to his year abroad in Italy and France after the war. After dabbling in abstract expressionism in the late ’50s and early ’60s his mature style settled into organic, hard-edged abstraction.
Achillo "Achi" Sullo Abstract Oil Painting "Processional", 1960
Achillo "Achi" Sullo Abstract Organic Form Acrylic Painting, circa 1968
Achillo "Achi" Sullo Graphic Abstraction Acrylic Painting, Circa 1965
Achillo "Achi" Sullo Abstract Tower Assemblage Sculpture, Circa 1958
Sullo was a talented and prolific artist, though you have never seen his work in a museum. Aside from a few gallery exhibitions, Sullo never tried to sell his work or share it with the world. To earn a living, he was a manager at Gilbert & Davis Catering in Roxbury, Massachusetts and was a member of Union Local 26. He also maintained a studio in Roxbury for many years. Sullo covered his canvases in color, creating bold abstract curves of salmon and rust, emerald and orange, and carved plywood into similarly sinuous shapes, all for his own enjoyment. He was a recluse. He told younger artists about his meeting with Picasso in Italy, how he made his way through art school, and, finally, how he decided to stop selling his work to the public. Because of this decision, much of his estate is intact. Having never left his studio, many of the works are unsigned. There is also little indication given as to how the works should be hung.
Achillo "Achi" Sullo Abstract Expressionist Oil Painting "Orange Sky"
Achillo "Achi" Sullo Flat-Color Abstraction Oil Painting, circa 1969
Achillo “Achi” Sullo Flat-Color Abstraction Oil Painting, circa 1972
Achi Sullo Abstract Grid Oil Painting, circa 1964
Sullo’s only known museum exhibition was a one-man show at the deCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts titled Roxbury Pastorals, Paintings, and Drawings by Achi Sullo, in November of 1958. The exhibition was organized by the Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego. At the time he lived in a small studio apartment near Roxbury Crossing. In these early years, the city of Boston was his favorite subject matter and his representational paintings revealed his familiarity with and affection for the neighborhood in which he lived.
Christian Science Monitor art critic Dorothy Adlow wrote of the show at the time. “To Mr. Sullo, Roxbury has been as provocative, as artistically inspiring as the landmarks of Paris, Venice, Ischia, and Taxco. He substitutes neo-Gothic spires for a Chartres skyline and the Roxbury Standpipe for an obelisk. Roxbury can kindle this painter to rapturous outburst, into profuse patterns based on fact but transformed into animated all-over design.”
The best-known exhibition of works from his mature style was Quadriga, which took place at Boston City Hall in January of 1974. It was a four-man show and the title Quadriga comes from the Latin word for a chariot drawn by four horses abreast. Boston Globe art critic Robert Taylor wrote of Sullo’s works included in the exhibition: “The pacemaker is an excellent abstract painter named Achi Sullo who works on canvas with oil and acrylic. Restricting himself to a fundamental vocabulary of flat, organic forms contained by heavy contours, Sullo’s paintings have both a vitality that derives from high-key colors and a subtlety of design. Positive and negative spaces, the handling of lights and darks, the acrobatic drama of his bounding lines risk decoration but don’t yield to it.”
Achi Sullo died on December 28, 2013, at the age of 91 in Wendell, Massachusetts.
- Achi Sullo, Recent Works, Dunbarton Galleries, Newbury Street, Boston, Massachusetts, March 11 – March 31, 1961.
- Roxbury Pastorals, Paintings and Drawings by Achi Sullo, deCordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts, November 30 – December 28, 1958.
Known group exhibitions:
- Quadriga, Boston City Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, January 9 – January 31, 1974.
- Annual Art Show, Massachusetts Bay District Arts Committee Exhibition, Andover, Massachusetts, April 17 – April 28, 1966. (winner: King’s Chapel First Prize for Composition II).
- Hard Edge, Stanhope Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts, January 27 – February 19, 1964.
- 20/20, 20 Alumni from 20 Years, Museum School Gallery, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, April 6 – April 29, 1963.