A review of Sean Scully’s paintings – ‘Uninsideout’ exhibition, BlainSouthern London until 17th November
In a career spanning 6 decades, Sean Scully in 2018 has 10 solo shows around the world, including an exhibition of sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 6 January 2019. During this review of Sean Scully’s paintings at ‘Uninsideout’ exhibition at BlainSouthern in London, I want to discuss Scully’s approach to the use form and colour and the intensity in his work.
The Irish born abstract painter Sean Scully grow up in London. He later moved to New York where he established a studio. Sean’s work explores a grid structure as a way to interpret the urban and natural landscape.
Sean’s initial interest in art came from viewing Van Gogh ‘The Chair’ at the Tate every weekend for 6 weeks. The painting profoundly moved Sean. He admired how the painting was honest and direct. It lit a spark in Sean and lead to his early work.
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Sean’s approach to painting has a similar intensity to Van Gogh’s ’The Chair’. He responses to thoughts and emotions with genuine integrity. Sean’s grid structure enables him to capture the rough, falling down feeling of the city. The muted light and the geometry grid facilitates a way to capture the unique beauty of the subject.
Sean Scully explaining his work, “I am paraphrasing nature, I am making the grid which is an intellectual framework, that we have invented, in order to order our cities. I fill it up with information that is already in the world. From the sky, the trees, the rivers and so on, all those sensual forms of information are gathered into the work to inform it, to enrich it, to bring it into the human spirit.”
In advance of the act of painting, Scully carefully works out the drawing of the grid and his palette of colours. This takes away many decisions while painting, and leaves space for a surprising amount of freedom in the making. Scully can focus on the noise, movement and pattern of the surface.
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The paintings are inspired by the cityscape with blocks and forms, or by horizontal lines forms a natural landscape opening up space for interpretation and mystery to the viewer. Unlike conceptual art, where the intellectual idea is clean and has a resolution, Sean’s paintings are like open questions allowing the viewer’s mind to wander across its surface. This is because the thinking and doing are inseparable, it causes the viewer to always fall short of understanding the artist’s direct experiences that inspired the art.
Sean Scully has a sensitivity to colour. His palette is inspired by the colours of nature and space around him. They are always finely calibrated colours, consistently hushed and sombre tones echoing the landscape. There is always a sense of the material in the work.
In the painting ‘What Makes Us Too’ (2017) he uses a brighter palette of colours. This work inspires thoughts of the exuberance and rhythm of contemporary urban life, including sexuality, lipstick and power. This series of work, as a result, is more decorative than his usual work.
Related external links – A review of Sean Scully’s paintings
Sean Scully has said he doesn’t like using unsophisticated bright or brash colours. He much prefers rich, refined tones. Colours that are not there to make an encounter happen. The colours in Scully palette come with their own natural, highly developed meaning which is delicate and complex. They are less dominating and with subtle degrees of graduation.
I really enjoyed seeing the varied body of work in this exhibition at BlainSouthern. Through focusing on the surface, Scully is able to reduce the decisions he has to make. This way of painting leaves space to focus on the two crucial aspects of his painting practice. The first is the intensity of the art. Through having many of the decisions worked out in advance, Scully can concentrate on the distinct characterises. The precise meaning is brought into existence by amplifying how powerful and intense the painting is.
The other important aspect of Sean Scully’s paintings is about how two things come together through visual intelligence. As Scully explains, “This really is the human problem how we come together. How do the things in the world come together.” As Sean Scully says, “Abstract art really is like music without words.” Scully’s paintings allude and invoke the way we experience the landscape as a mental state rather than a conscious effort.
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