J. Sultan Ali was born in Bombay. Was born on 12 September 1920. He obtained a Diploma in Fine Arts from the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Madras and also received the Madras Government Scholarship in 1946.
He started organizing solo exhibitions from 1946 itself and organized solo exhibitions in all the important centers like Madras, New Delhi and Bombay. He has had exhibitions abroad in California, Papua, Lugano, Sao Paulo and Venice etc. His paintings are stored in many collections in India and abroad.
He was honored by Sahitya Kala Parishad in 1957, Amritsar Academy in 1958, IFEX in 1963 and National Award in 1966 and 1978. He was a founding member of the Progressive Painters Association Madras and an artist member of the Cholamdal Group. He also represented India in the First Asia Exhibition.
Sultan Ali was initially a figure-oriented painter and laid special emphasis on technique. Their early simple forms were influenced by folk art, primitive art (tribal mythology and craft-based objects from the level district of Madhya Pradesh), and modern art. Earlier he used to create figurative figures in water colours.
He had a keen eye for the intricacies of design and had a special interest in textile design. Often depicted rural people and scenes. Around 1964, he also depicted strong men, women and animals and birds of South India. After this he started working on canvas in oil medium.
Their figurative nuances were lost and the details of the objects were lost in dull colors. Apart from unity in line, color, design and composition, there was freedom in technique and spontaneity in depiction.
He started depicting subjects like village women, Radhika, shepherds, tribal women, lonely women etc. There has been very creative use of folk tales and fantasy in these.
J. Sultan Ali’s latest experiments are such an expressive effort of symbols and mechanisms of folk art and primitive art that gives a surrealistic effect. In the wide expanse of the picture, these figures with deep effects appear mysterious but still the effect of figurative beauty remains in them.