Sullivan was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and died in Albany, New York. He attended Silvermine College and earned an M.F.A. from The University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with Fairfield Porter, Neil Welliver, Jane Freilicher, John Button and Rudy Burckhardt. He also studied privately with Josef and Annie Albers.
In the late 1960s, Sullivan joined Bowery Gallery, an artist-run gallery in a storefront on Bowery that was dedicated mostly to figurative art, where he was one of the first artists to show. Later, when the Alliance of Figurative Artists was starting, Sullivan organized weekly panels and discussions at The Educational Alliance. He organized these panels on a regular basis for several years.
Sullivan's first solo show at Bowery Gallery in 1970 included paintings depicting people, New York cityscapes and still lifes. After this show, Sullivan developed an interest in landscape painting. The city of New York became one of his favorite subjects. New York City, the Hudson River and Manhattan's West Side highway became his main subjects. He had several shows of these paintings at Bowery Gallery and continued to paint the Hudson till the end of his life. At one of these shows he met art collector G. W. Einstein, who became his friend and represented him for many years. Sullivan had his first solo show at G. W. Einstein Company in 1978.
Sullivan remained in New York City until 2001 where he had several solo shows. In 2002, he settled in Hudson, New York, where his two nineteenth-century heroes, Frederick Church and Sanford Robinson Gifford, had lived. He painted many of the sites Church and Gifford rendered on canvas. In 2006, The Albany Institute of History and Art had a major retrospective of Sullivan's work.