Sean Scully, Landline Rising Blue, 2018
Entre ciel et terre (Between Heaven & Earth) is Sean Scully’s first exhibition at Thaddaeus Ropac. Created for the most part during the pandemic, the paintings suggest a connection with nature and an inner world of memory in troubled times. Introducing his new Mirroring paintings, along with a selection of works from his landmark series, the exhibition demonstrates how Sean Scully has marked contemporary abstraction.
My work is not what you would call expressionism. It’s geometry painted expressively. —Sean Scully
Fusing the traditions of European painting with the distinct character of American abstraction, Scully is renowned for his expressive and spiritual use of color and form. As the exhibition title Between Heaven & Earth indicates, his art hovers between two realms: the terrestrial, conveying a sense of materiality, rawness and sensuality, and the celestial, opening onto the infinite.
Sean Scully, Mirroring 4.12.20, 2020
Sean Scully, Mirroring series
Sean Scully, Mirroring Green, 2020
Painted in oil on aluminium, the large-scale Mirroring works are divided into two sets of colored stripes that mirror each other with variations. Between each color field, the artist has left the metal surface visible. The overall composition, with the rhythm of the horizontal bands, brings to mind the pages of a book or musical score.
Since 2016, Scully has taken to painting on both aluminium and copper. Responding to paint in different ways, each support creates a rhythm and tempo of its own. This choice of polished surface also connects with the artist’s interest in how his art can absorb and reflect meaning in relationship to the viewer.
Sean Scully, Mirroring Maroon, 2020
Sean Scully, Mirroring series
Sean Scully, Mirroring Yellow 4.5.20, 2020
The colors range from soft and sensual hues, such as a rose that references the saturated and humid qualities that Scully perceives in Pierre Bonnard’s (1867–1947) use of the same color. Counterbalancing this effect, the creamy and dark grays allude to the melancholy and grittiness of the cities the artist has lived in, including London, New York, Berlin, Munich and Barcelona.
The gradations of tone and combinations of colors allow for a sensorial and emotional impact, enhanced by the shimmering effect of the metal. The paintings capture ever-changing landscapes, with horizons that appear to shimmer and shift within the pictorial frame. Although they are strongly abstract, Sean Scully’s paintings are informed by life, experience and sensation.
Sean Scully, Star, 2021
The Landline series has been at the heart of Sean Scully’s practice for the past decade. The works were originally inspired by a photograph that the artist took of a seascape from a cliff in Norfolk, England: “I try to paint this sense of the elemental coming together, of land and sea, sky and land, of blocks coming together side by side, stacked in horizon lines endlessly beginning and ending.”
In his Wall of Light series begun in 1998, Sean Scully plays with opposites, as suggested by the title. The arranged color blocks are rendered with thick layers of paint that may evoke solid stone walls, while the variations in hues and brightness emulate impressions of light.
Sean Scully, Wall Landline Dark Yellow, 2021
Scully has often expressed his admiration for French artists, in particular Claude Monet, André Derain and Vincent van Gogh, who spent most of his life in France. The various shades of yellow and blue in Star (2021) refer to the bold tones used by van Gogh to portray the southern light.
The repetition in Scully’s work is not simply a formal device, it also seems to reflect the modern conditions of work and its repetitive tasks.
Sean Scully, Black Window Pale Land, 2020
The black square inserted within Black Window Pale Land (2020) alludes to the Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935).
This new form in Scully’s practice has emerged in response to the effects of the pandemic, during which perspectives have been disrupted and even darkened.