Employing oil paints thickened with varnish, Novaya is an exceptional example of Scully’s longstanding investigation of striped forms. Here blocks of lush colour—orange, deep garnet, cloud grey and slate —reveal passages of painting in repeated layers, and Scully’s intuitive selection of pigments evokes the work of the artist’s celebrated predecessor Mark Rothko: “Of all the Abstract Expressionists, Rothko is the one with whom Scully has the greatest affinity…Where Rothko’s blocks float on the picture plane, Scully’s are tied to it and tightly integrated with one another” (Exh. Cat., Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection, Sean Scully: Wall of Light, 2005, p. 19). While Scully’s atmospheric use of colour alludes to the quiet meditations of Rothko’s large-scale canvases, his chromatic expression is also bound to the post-Impressionist works of Pierre Bonnard and Paul Gauguin, whose preoccupation with ideas of opacity and translucency offer a poignant parallel to Scully’s own visual orchestration.
Scully began experimenting with new techniques of interlacing vertical, horizontal and diagonal bands of saturated colour at Harvard University in 1972, when he was awarded the Frank Knox Fellowship to study fine arts at the revered institution. The Irish-born artist moved from London to New York in the late seventies, and received the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 1983, further cementing his reputation as one of the best of his generation. Yet Scully’s brilliant mastery of colour, light and movement matured in the 1990s, and the period in which the present work was executed was one of the artist’s most productive, poignantly combining European and American pictorial traditions in his vibrant articulation of colour, form and gesture. Of his powerful, thought-provoking work, the artist himself asserts, “I make things for people to look at that are not closed down, not concluded, things that are made emphatically with the wish to stay open…If something has no meaning, if it doesn’t mean anything outside of its own power to affect us, then we are in a sense free. And where else are we free?” (Sean Scully, ‘Metaphor’, artist website, March 2004, online)
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