“That’s the job of art: to undo the logic of the world.”
For the Irish born abstract painter Sean Scully the world outside the studio is a major influence in his work.
As he told Blouin Artinfo’s Scott Indriek “My abstraction has never been, let’s say, theory based. It’s always been rather experiential. I’ve always used metaphors that relate to things outside painting… I’m not one of these painters who just refers to the history of abstract painting. I’ve always tried to have windows to the world. It’s often associative.”
And one of those associations is music. A musician himself, Scully owned a Blues club and played in a band in London in the 1960’s before coming under the spell of visual artists Mark Rothko and Bridgette Riley and taking up painting.
It is an influence, he told The Irish Times that can be seen in his work. “I think that I make chords when I paint, so I think you would be listening to the cello. It’s deep and it’s resonant. A lot of people have compared me to Brahms – that slightly melancholic sensuality that’s highly structured. Well, that describes my work right there.”
Although being born in Ireland, Scully grew up in London and now, as a US citizen, lives in New York, but is seriously considering opening a studio in Berlin. As he explains “the city is kind of shut, though it sells itself as the opposite. Welcome to the Big Apple! But it’s already eaten. The problem for Manhattan in particular is that the rental value of the space is so compressed that it squeezes out that sort of risk taking and now you’ve got just powerhouse galleries that I wouldn’t want to show in, you know Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth. They are monster galleries and they seem to feed on artists. It reminds me of Goya’s painting of the Colossus eating his own children. I wouldn’t want to be eaten by one of those galleries. I show with Cheim & Read, it’s a nice little family affair.”
Such a move would be easy for the nomadically inclined artist. As he explains “I’m essentially a European who has migrated, so in a sense my work is like a fusion of American and European influences: the American scale and compositional aggression or frankness, but with a lot of European knowledge in it. And in that sense my position is unique, because I’m bringing the information back and forth. When I’m in Germany for example, I am seen as quite American. There’s a guy who’s going to open the newly reformed Sprengel Museum in Hannover. And he’s hanging a big painting of mine with Don Judd and Agnes Martin. So he sees me as American. But in New York, the city of Jeff Koons, Ellsworth Kelly, and Wade Guyton, I would be seen as quite European. I’m a fusion.”
But wherever he is located the urge to work is a constant along with the need to re-examine what has gone before. As he says “Recycling material. Intellectual and physical. I am recycling these bands in my paintings, I’ve been doing it forever, once I stopped painting figuratively. I started recycling, and rejigging, shape-shifting bands and blocks and bars. Some people call them stripes, but I like the term bands because I like rock ’n’ roll so much.”
A selection of Scully’s Landline series of works is current on show at Dublin’s Kerlin Gallery until the 29th of August.