A major exhibition of this Dublin-born painter
was held at the NGA, winter, 2004.

For over 30 years Scully has painted large abstract works using horizontal and vertical stripes, bands and grids in numerous configurations. The stripe has become his motif. Scully’s paintings are immensely physical. Their scale is often architectural, and they are made with thick, heavy stretchers, engaging his audience in a relationship that is provocative and affirming. In his recent Wall of light series, magnificent, wall-sized canvases are covered with arrangements of intersecting coloured stripes that literally radiate with life and energy. Through their presence, they seek to remind the viewer of, in the artist’s own words, ‘the brutality of reality’ and the ‘fact that we are physical … my paintings begin with that premise’.

Red Merida 2002
oil on canvas 213.4 x 243.8 cm Private collection

Born in Dublin in 1945, Scully was inspired by paintings he saw in a local church and decided at a young age to become a painter. After studies in England and at Harvard University in the United States of America during the 1960s and early 1970s, Scully moved to New York in 1975, and has since held major exhibitions in museums throughout North America and Europe.

Drawing on the great tradition of the Abstract Expressionists, Scully’s art is both physically and visually compelling, as well as meditative. His paintings are immensely physical. They often extend over 3 metres in length, and are made with thick, heavy stretchers that project into the space of the viewer. Scully’s work is deeply concerned with colour, light and beauty, and looks to engage its viewer in a reflection on the meaning of presence and being. The paintings are intended to remind the viewer of, in the artist’s terms, ‘the brutality of reality’ and of the ‘fact that we are physical…my paintings begin with that premise’. This is, in the most profound way, a humanist experience, enabled at a time when the terms of ‘humanism’ seem disturbingly uncertain.

Scully’s abstract paintings are thus firmly rooted in the real world. His austere, geometrical forms often reference those spaces in which a majority of the world’s populations now live: the real world of the city—its architecture, landscapes, signs, roads. As the artist has suggested: ‘What I’m trying to do is something about modern life…I want to express that we live in a world with repetitive rhythms and that things are existing side by side that seem incongruous or difficult. Yet, out of that, is our truth. It expresses where we are’.

Four small mirrors 1999
oil on linen 4 parts each 81.3 x 60.9 cm
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

Sean Scully working in his studio.


Durango 1990
oil on linen 290 x 458 x 15 cm
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

"This work, Durango - which as you say is strongly architectural - could
still be divided differently. It could be divided into three pieces and
painted as three pieces, but what is interesting to me about the work
is that it's a tryptych that's in a fight with an all-over painting. It's both
and that's something that runs through my work a lot, the idea of the
dialectic, the divided idea, the double idea. In a way, it looks like an
enormous altarpiece, because this particular structure has religious
connotations. The way it's painted is almost violent; it has a kind of
force in it that makes it difficult to negotiate with. And in another way it
looks like a wasteland. It's not a painting that is full of hope."
Sean Scully interviewed by Jörg Zutter.


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