Sean Scully

Scully is the muscleman of abstract painting, forever fighting to contain the raw energy of his brushstrokes within the dense blocks of pigment from which his compact & irregular structures are fashioned.

In the Wall of Light series he returns to familiar layouts and locations, underscoring his slabs of viscous black and dirty white with the vibrant heat and light of Mexico and Spain. They are as much about the colour that lies beneath the surface as the paint that moves across it, with its brushy texture amplified by his recent preference for aluminium over canvas ground, and in so doing (according to the gallery’s press release) they link the tactile and physical world with the ‘invisible world of metaphor and indeed faith’.

 

How he works the oils – mixing warm with cool tones, light with dark passages - to generate a brooding atmosphere is evident; and so is the way he matches the dense material of the earth with the matter of paint, often using the directional sweep of his massive brushes to create a certain tensile force within his rectilinear grids.

But beyond this, are we really witnessing an invisible world that hints at transcendence? Are we in the similar territory to Rothko’s ineffable or Newman’s unknowable? Or is this perhaps a colourful mark maker who confuses scale with message, monumentalism with profundity? If we are being asked to keep faith with Scully’s own faith in meaning, we are being asked to keep faith not with what remains invisible but with what is visibly absent. The forces that animate his work are physical (the surface of his paint like pale skin over hot flesh) rather than spiritual, however much he may hope that, like stained glass cathedral windows, the latter might be understood to invoke the former.

Sean Scully:New Work, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London 28 May - 3 July 2010