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.
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