Sean Scully, Human
Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy
11 May - 13 October 2019
Sean Scully delivers sermon of stripes at Venetian church. The Irish-born painter and printmaker will transform every corner of the 16th-century San Giorgio Maggiore church with new paintings, sculptures and drawings during the Venice Biennale.
Unstoppable, the excellent BBC documentary on Sean Scully that aired in April, charts the Irish-born abstract artist’s rag to riches rise, his outsider status in art world, his complex private life and his Catholic roots. Not since his primary school days at a convent in London, will the 73-year-old have found himself so regularly in front of the altar as he does next month, with the opening of a solo exhibition, entitled ‘Human’, at San Giorgio Maggiore church during the 58th Venice Biennale.
New sculptures, paintings, drawings, and watercolours inspired by the monks, their vast collection of manuscripts and the famous church itself (designed by Andrea Palladio in 1575, it is one of the city’s finest) will go on show. They occupy every nook and cranny; Opulent Ascension is a ten-metre high sculpture of stacked frames wrapped in felt, which rises up through the central dome. In the choir behind the altar sits Scully’s vast manuscript of watercolours, while eight paintings from his abstract Landline collection form a procession to the water outside.
‘In many of my painting there is a ladder-like motif,’ says the artist, who has often claimed his work can serve as a conduit between the physical world and the spiritual one. Raised a Catholic, the ecclesiastical location of the show is loaded, he says, ‘But we have had history, so everything is loaded, isn’t it? I’m not a purist. I don’t see the materialism of the church, the robes and opulence, as a contradiction.’
Additional works are scattered throughout the island’s gardens and the church’s adjoining buildings. Among them is a candelabra that holds one giant candle and a triptych entitled Madonna of his son and fourth wife. ‘It’s a very atmospheric space; the works create a powerful sense of silence,’ says Scully, who has also included the monks in his production. As the island’s only residents, they are cooking a dinner of their homegrown produce on the opening night.