Lot 216
  • 216

SEAN SCULLY | Wall of Light Pink Grey Sky

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • Sean Scully
  • Wall of Light Pink Grey Sky
  • signed, titled and dated 2011 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 84 5/8 by 74 7/8 in. 215 by 190 cm.


Galeria Carles Taché, Barcelona
Acquired from the above by the present owner


This work is in very good condition overall. The canvas is unlined. The canvas is very slightly slack on the stretcher at the top left corner, only visible under very close inspection and raking light. The pigment application irregularities are consistent with the artist's working method and choice of medium. There are a few, scattered pinpoint surface accretions from the time of execution. Under Ultraviolet light inspection, there are a few areas of varnish which fluoresce lightly and are inherent to the artist's working method. Unframed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Executed in 2011, Wall of Light Pink Grey Sky is a monumental painting from Sean Scully’s celebrated series, composed in the inimitable pictorial dialect of glossily painted horizontal and vertical bars that have become the artist’s hallmark. The Wall of Light series, of which the present work is a definitive example, represents the culmination of Scully’s career-long exploration of abstract painting. Using a five-inch brush and oil paints thickened with varnish, he builds up his compositions gradually, applying multiple layers of paint to animate the surface with luxuriant and calligraphic strokes. Bricks of scorched terracotta and carbon black are enlivened by the paint’s seductive and tactile texture. As each layer is applied, the feathered edges of these swathes of pigment and the spaces between them create fascinating, highly complex structures. In Wall of Light Pink Grey Sky, panels of earthy maroon coalesce with charcoal greys and dusky pinks, forming interwoven layers of color that radiate light and energy. At the seams of each panel, previous layers of brilliant red pigment peek out, like light shining through the cracks in a wall. The result is a remarkably rich and nuanced painterly surface. Compositionally, the work evokes the architectural structure of its title, yet as the contradiction inherent in the name implies, these solid structures are dematerialized by Scully's use of color, so that in density there is light and in ethereality there is weight. The inspiration for the Wall of Light series came from a visit Scully made to Mexico in the early 1980s, where he was fascinated by the stones of ancient Mayan walls at Yucatan, which, when animated by light, seemed to reflect the passage of time. "These places in the Yucatan were cities, now you see a wall, what remains, a wall transformed by light, the walls change color, from pink to blue to red. I would get up early, the shadows completely transform the ruined architecture, they make it seem hopeful one moment, tragic another" (the artist cited in David Carrier, Sean Scully, London 2004, p. 25). After several return trips and almost twenty years of ruminating on this vision, Scully made his first Wall of Light painting in 1998. Spanning decades, locations, and media, this series crystallizes the full spectrum of Scully’s formal and chromatic language. Through Wall of Light Pink Grey Sky, Scully evokes the Mediterranean light, sun baked terracotta and long, creeping shadows of dusk from the environs of his Barcelona studio. A great admirer of traditional Spanish painting from Velasquez to Goya, Scully is heavily influenced by these masters’ dramatic palettes, and particularly their use of black, which he here utilizes to anchor the four corners of his composition. Further, like his Spanish heroes, Scully is motivated by the brushstroke, and the individual gesture of the artist’s hand that reveals his presence and process. In this way Scully's paintings, although resolutely abstract, are replete with emotive content.

More than any artist of his generation, Scully combines the formal traditions of European masters – from the brooding tones of Caravaggio and Manet to the spectacular brushwork of van Gogh and Matisse – with a distinctly American abstract tradition. His geometric style combines the minimalist architecture of Donald Judd and Frank Stella that reigned throughout his early years as a painter, with the dramatic sublime aesthetic inherited from the New York School of color-field painters like Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. Born in Ireland, he studied in London but sought out the great masters of Abstract Expressionism in New York, where he settled from 1975. Seeing this heroic style of post-war painting as his direct heritage, it is with Rothko in particular that he feels a special affinity. In Rothko’s work, light combines with darkness and a moody, melancholic drama, which has become the cornerstone of Scully’s appreciation for this modern master. Though an admirer of the simple geometry of Minimalism, Scully felt that its erasure of the individual’s hand was too sterile, preferring instead to imbue his works with emotion and personality. As he has said, “The whole point of painting is that it has the potential to be so humanistic, so expressive. To give that up is a tremendous mistake, because then what you are doing is imitating forms of technological expression that can be manifested more directly, more efficiently, and frankly, more beautifully, in their original form. It is the opposite of what I am trying to do. I want my brushstrokes to be full of feeling – material feeling manifested in form and color.” (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat, Sean Scully: The Art of the Stripe, Hood Museum of Art Dartmouth College, Hanover 2008, p. 66)

Like Rothko, Scully has evolved his own abstract language of rectangular brick-like forms that fit closely together, and are characterized by broad, feathered, nuanced brushstrokes. By paring down his means to pure color and surface texture, he seeks to tease out feeling and contemplation from the depths of tone, gesture, and light in layer upon layer of paint. Manifesting a complete adherence to the principal tenets of abstraction, in Wall of Light Pink Grey Sky Scully lyrically conveys its emotional power, its storytelling potential, and above all, its capacity to convey light.