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b. 1945, Ireland

Sean Scully Biography

Best known for his large-scale, grid-like paintings, artist Sean Scully has long been a proponent of abstraction. Desiring to rescue the mode from remoteness and re-inject it with exalted feeling, in a 2016 interview with Ocula Magazine, Scully explained his devotion to the style, saying, 'in my paintings, I don't paint space. I paint things. I paint the stripe as if it's a kind of life and death.'

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Born in Dublin, Scully grew up south of London and studied painting at Croydon School of Art, London, and Newcastle University, where he was inspired by the colour field paintings of Mark Rothko and the minimalist abstraction of Bridget Riley. In the 1970s, he moved to America for a graduate fellowship at Harvard and later settled in New York, where he still lives part-time, in addition to Munich. His status as an immigrant and outsider has long been an important part of his philosophy about life and art.

Scully's earliest paintings, made in the UK, were inspired by the bright colours and wild stripes of Moroccan textiles. However, following his move to America in the 1970s, Scully simplified his motif and reigned in his palette. His paintings from that era to the present day are characterised by their compositions that are made up of several rectangular or square sections painted in various colours—often deep, rich and stormy or autumn-toned hues. Several thickly brushed layers of oil paint on each section result in illusions of luminescence or movement, with a dynamic surface texture often compared to skin.

Reflecting his upbringing in working-class neighbourhoods and his adult life in cities, Scully's works from the 1980s were inspired by conflict, discord, haphazard urban planning and human competition for survival—weighty themes reflected in the paintings' sombre palettes and cramped, brick-like compositions. While in such early works Scully used tape to delineate the clean, structured sections on his canvases, he later abandoned that hard-edge aesthetic and began painting more loosely, allowing the shapes to breathe and show evidence of their making. In Battered Earth (1988), for example, patches of cream-coloured rectangles belie their earthy underlying layers, as do the blood-coloured sections with the umber paint beneath.

Showing a further loosening up of technique, Scully's major 'Wall of Light' series works (1998–ongoing) are first drawn out with charcoal stuck to the end of a long stick before being filled in with paint. The series begun when the artist was travelling in Mexico and was struck by the play of light on Mayan stone walls. Indeed, the combination of vertical and horizontal bars in Scully's paintings are often compared to architectural elements; the sections are said to resemble Stonehenge-like structures.

While he mostly works with oil on canvas, Scully also uses watercolour, pastels and aquatints, as well as painting directly on aluminium—a support that enhances the thickness of the oil paint and its illusion of emitting light. His recent sculptures borrow the same compositions as his paintings; Air (2018) is a large cube made of multi-coloured recinto, marble and cantera, assembled in blocks that create asymmetrical grid patterns when viewed from each angle.

Scully has been named as a Turner Prize nominee twice: in 1989 and again in 1993.

Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2018

Sean Scully Featured Artworks

LANDLINE YELLOW YELLOW by Sean Scully contemporary artwork
Sean ScullyLANDLINE YELLOW YELLOW, 2014Oil on aluminium
215.9 x 190.5 cm
Cheim & Read Contact Gallery
Battered Earth by Sean Scully contemporary artwork
Sean ScullyBattered Earth, 1988Oil on canvas
183 x 183 cm
ShanghART Contact Gallery
WALL OF LIGHT KOREA by Sean Scully contemporary artwork
Sean ScullyWALL OF LIGHT KOREA, 2012Oil on linen
160 x 160 cm
Wooson Gallery

Sean Scully Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Sean Scully, The 12 / Dark Windows at Lisson Gallery, West 24th Street, New York
Open Now
6 May–18 June 2021 Sean Scully The 12 / Dark Windows Lisson GalleryWest 24th Street, New York
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Double-M, Double-X at Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
17 October 2020–16 January 2021 Group Exhibition Double-M, Double-X Kerlin GalleryDublin
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, At Dawn at Cheim & Read, New York
10 September–3 October 2020 Group Exhibition At Dawn Cheim & ReadNew York

Sean Scully Represented By

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Cheim & Read contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Cheim & Read New York
Ingleby Gallery contemporary art gallery in Edinburgh, United Kingdom Ingleby Gallery Edinburgh
KEWENIG contemporary art gallery in Berlin, Germany KEWENIG Berlin, Palma
Lisson Gallery contemporary art gallery in Lisson Street, London, United Kingdom Lisson Gallery London, East Hampton, New York, Shanghai

Sean Scully In Ocula Magazine

Sean Scully Ocula Conversation Sean Scully By Elliat Albrecht, Guangzhou

I’m very tenacious intellectually, and very hot emotionally. I think that’s like a galloping stage coach, you know, with a black horse and a white horse pulling it.

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Sean Scully In Related Press

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Sean Scully takes up residence in Picasso’s former studio at Château de Boisgeloup Related Press Sean Scully takes up residence in Picasso’s former studio at Château de Boisgeloup 6 November 2019, Wallpaper*

'I'm the Donald Trump of the art world,' Sean Scully jokingly declared in the BBC documentary released in April this year about his art and life as one of the world's wealthiest living artists, in which he jets around the world on his private jet.

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Reconciling Secular Art in Sacred Spaces Related Press Reconciling Secular Art in Sacred Spaces 20 July 2019, Hyperallergic

VENICE — The two most arresting exhibitions I saw among the Venice Biennale's collateral displays were Sean Scully's Human and Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum, curated by Phong Bui and Francesca Pietropaolo for The Brooklyn Rail. Scully's show is a magisterial display of a...

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Painters Reply: Experimental Painting in the 1970s and Now Related Press Painters Reply: Experimental Painting in the 1970s and Now 2 July 2019, The Brooklyn Rail

On some timely occasions, we get the true pleasure to be reminded of T.S. Eliot's 'historical sense' (from his famous 1919 essay Tradition and Individual Talent). This historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past but of its very presence, which simply implies a co-function of simultaneous existence and simultaneous...

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The Best Things to See at the 2019 Venice Biennale Related Press The Best Things to See at the 2019 Venice Biennale 13 May 2019, AnOther

The 58 th edition of the Venice Biennale, May You Live in Interesting Times curated by Ralph Rugoff–from London’s very own Hayward Gallery–proves to be as interesting as its title promises. Venice is an easy city to get lost in, and it’s easy to see why Proust dubbed the city’s labyrinth of alleyways a network of 'innumerable slender capillary...

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Sean Scully In Video & Audio

Kerlin Gallery 'Double-M, Double-X' 2020 Related Video & Audio Kerlin Gallery 'Double-M, Double-X' 2020 27 October 2020, Kerlin Gallery

Kerlin Gallery is delighted to present Double-M, Double-X as the second exhibition of our autumn programme. Bringing together ten artists in a stimulating and eclectic presentation, this group show celebrates the breadth, diversity and vitality of contemporary painting. Offering a rich array of ideas, approaches and contrasting voices, the...

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