In Focus: The Sean Scully masterpiece full of ‘complex, layered bands that shift seamlessly in tone’

A son of Dublin and South London, Sean Scully's five-decade career has seen him become one of our most admired living artists. Lilias Wigan takes a look at one of his latest pieces.

‘I hold to a very Romantic ideal of what’s possible in art, and I hold to the idea of the personal universal (…) I’m going against the current trend towards bizarreness, oddness’ — Sean Scully

Born in Dublin in 1945, Sean Scully was raised in South London. From the age of nine, he wanted to be an artist and so, from 1962 to 1965, he studied at evening classes at the Central School of Art and then, until 1968, attended a full-time course at Croydon College of Art.

He received his Bachelor of Arts from Newcastle University in 1972, was awarded the Frank Knox Fellowship to Harvard University and, by 1975, was living in New York. Today, he lives and works between New York and Bavaria and his career — already spanning five decades — has made him one of our most admired living artists.

Landline Gray (2015) is the latest addition to a collection of works by the artist on display at the Hugh Lane Gallery (aka the Dublin City Gallery). Scully’s generous donation of eight paintings in 2006 inaugurated a new wing at Hugh Lane, which includes a room devoted to Scully.

Scully Room at the Hugh Lane Gallery

The Scully Room at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin


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Unlike his earlier works on display here, which are painted on linen, Landline Gray is in oil on aluminium, the effect of which is to conjure up with an almighty force the spirit of sea waves, mist and winds. The impermeability of the metallic canvas allows the paint a vigorous elasticity — the brushstrokes sit proud of the surface in complex, layered bands that shift seamlessly in tone.

These blocks of colour, often in the form of vertical or horizontal stripes, are what Scully is best known for. They gesture toward the American abstraction of Mark Rothko, while his compositional influences come from European Modernism and artists such as Piet Mondrian.

Surrounding Landline Gray at the Hugh Lane Gallery are other iconic examples of this monumental form of Abstraction; they summon up an exhilaration similar to that felt in the Rothko Room at Tate Modern in London.

A Turner-inspired body of Scully’s new work, ‘Sea Star: Sean Scully’, is at the National Gallery, London until 11th August. Many of Scully’s other works are on permanent display in the Scully Gallery at Hugh Lane.