Spanning over 50 years this exhibition brings together 100 works; oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, sculpture, writings and prints from 1968 to now focusing on the role of the square in Sean Scully's groundbreaking career.
From his paintings in the early 1970s through to his monumental ‘Crann Soilse’ (‘Wall of Light’, 2003) wall of alternate white Portuguese limestone and black Chinese basalt stone cubes, commissioned by the University in Limerick, Scully’s art relates and processes the tensions and links between built structures and the oblong forms he creates with his paintbrush. Throughout, the square has been a stabilising, structuring component, a containing format within which the artist has found expansive latitude to experiment and develop.
Director, National Gallery of Ireland
In the art of Sean Scully — widely acknowledged as among the most important proponents of abstraction during the last half-century — particular attention has often been paid to the potential significance both literal and metaphorical of the square .
This exhibition traces that history in the evolution of Scully's unique contribution to abstract painting. A career that infused the limited vocabulary of minimalist with the raw spirit and muddy emotion of the lived experience.
From the earliest work in the exhibition, a Gouache on paper from 1968, described by the writer Kelly Grovier as ‘an abacus of thirty shuddering circles squeezed within as many squares' to his more recent 'Dark Window' series where dense black squares are squeezed within his landlines, (made during lockdown and unveiled in the New York Times in April 2020) Scully has returned time and time again to test, tease and push against geometry.
the iPhone prints
SQUARE also includes a new series of prints made with the artists finger on an iPhone screen. Shown for the first time, these playful and expressive drawings are teeming with life and energy, expressing the haptic and creative potential of the screen. A celebration of tactility in an age of immateriality, they carve out a space for drawing and mark-making in the age of the smartphone while reconsidering the legacy of minimalism and abstraction in the 21st Century.
Scully’s recurrent concentration on the square is grounded, partly, in historical awareness. Squares of many kinds — small components or organising frameworks, zones of darkness and painterly density, areas of organised colour and expressively nuanced illumination — are presented in styles sensitive to the manifold experiments with fundamental geometric form that defined earlier generations of art. Yet the square is also, for Scully, a figure of empirical, worldly, in-the-moment value: a shape that speaks, not only, of the perfections and complications of two-dimensional abstract form, but also of actual conditions of seeing and being in the world. The varied specificity of Scully’s squares — as with other recognizable configurations of rectangular layering and patterning in his art — often emerges from considered responses to places, atmospheres and experiences.
Geometry, again and again, is brought into correspondence with geography. As such, squares can be key compositional features and, at the same time, diversely implied ‘windows’. Squares are structures for seeing that might, from painting to painting, from drawing to drawing, offer generous variations of worldly light or — depending on the agitations of the times — propose more obscured, darkened and troubled views. Scully's square-centred artworks have a grounding but ambiguous presence comparable to what Seamus Heaney once called the "there-you-are and where-are-you of poetry."
Course Director: MA Art in the Contemporary World
National College of Art and Design, Dublin
b.1945, Dublin, Ireland.
Scully’s art is thoroughly international in perspective, drawing on the diverse historical and cultural influences of places that, at different times, have been profoundly important to him. He has taken inspiration from many cherished, varied elements of European culture (ranging from the harmonic ideals of ancient Greek architecture to the vernacular design of stone walls in rural Ireland) but he has also successfully responded to – and built on – the legacy of abstract painting. Scully’s commanding, internationally recognizable oeuvre – based on repeating and steadily adapting arrangements of discretely nuanced blocks of colour – combines considerable painterly drama with great visual delicacy. It is an art of tremendous vigour and of acute concentration and care: his work involves an ongoing negotiation between the monumental and the intimate.
'The Shape of Ideas' a career retrospective is currently on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2022) following its run at Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth (2021).
Recent exhibitions include: Song of Colours, Langen Foundation, Germany (2022); Passenger, Benaki Museum, Athens (2021); Passenger, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest, Hungary (2021); Insideoutside, Skulpturenpark Waldfrieden, Wuppertal, Germany (2020-21); Opulent Ascension, LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster, Germany, (2020); Aeternum, Eleuthera, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Málaga, Spain,(2019/2020); Long Night, Villa e Collezione Panza, Varese, Italy,(2019 / 2020); Landline, The Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut (2019); Eleuthera, Albertina, Vienna, (2019); Sea Star, National Gallery, London, (2019); Vita Duplex, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, (2018); Landlines and other recent works, De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg (2018); Sean Scully: 1970, Walker Art, Liverpool Museum, (2018); Inside Outside, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, (2018).
Scully's work is represented in the collections of The Guggenheim Museum, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington; Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; National Gallery of Australia; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen K20/K21, Düsseldorf Tate Gallery, London; Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin and National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, amongst others.