Tall in stature, he moves slowly. His face is stern. He has thin lips. A shaved head. He could play the role of a bad guy in a film.
He has a reputation for being difficult, but after spending a short time in his company you realize he’s more than willing to laugh and to eventually let his guard down.
I met the Dublin-born artist, now an international abstract art star, on the occasion of his exhibition at his new gallery in London, Blain/Southern, where they’ve pulled out all the stops to celebrate him: a big solo exhibition, an invite engraved in metal (in reference to the base of his paintings) and a big opening dinner.
There’s no doubt about it, Sean Scully is very ambitious. He talks about a desire for influence.
Still, it’s rare to come across painters like him who have so many international projects. There’s a long list of his exhibitions (1). But what really ignites his interest and currently absorbs him is his new work.
Returning to what has become his signature style, polychrome stripes with uneven edges, he has developed the idea of depicting American flags where the stars have disappeared and have been replaced by a gun.
“This is a country that’s killing its children,” declares the American and Irish citizen.
“But right now no institution dares display this work in the United States.”
Admittedly, the history of 20th century art is littered with American flags, but those of this series entitled “Ghosts” – “democracy is disappearing,” he explains, “it’s all about the ghost” – have a fascinating power.
Here Scully has created a historic series.
It would appear this new verve is connected to his personal life. He lives upstate New York with his wife and son (“My biggest project is my son”): Oisin, born in 2009.”I love him more than the sun and the moon”. He’s going to be displaying a series of portraits of him at the Albertina in Vienna next May. More figurative art.
He says: “Abstraction has gone too far. The closest to what I want to do is an abstraction that would have been appreciated by Matisse and Picasso. Actually, I see myself a little like Claude Monet,” he adds, showing me on his phone the reconstructed Giverny garden at his house. “Like him, I have one foot in the past and one foot in the future. In my work, through the choice of colours, there are also intrinsic references to Manet and Courbet. But given that I was born in the present day I’m doing something else.”
Surprisingly, he doesn’t think Rothko’s work is all that important. He wants to create an impure abstraction. “Purity is frightening. What I do is romantic”.
To hold the interest of this giant of abstract painting, I should say that I altered my line of questioning over the course of the game of answers in almost 1 minute, to which he applied himself willingly.
Having dropped the bomb of his figurative “Ghosts”, finally in his last answer he says that the memory he would like to leave behind is that of a painter who has humanized abstraction.
Paradox seems to be the prerogative of interesting people.
What are you trying to do when you are painting?
Where do you place yourself in the history of abstraction?
What do you want people to feel when they look at your paintings?
I visited your exhibition at the Hirshhorn. Do you begin with photos?
How does it work technically. Do you make a drawing first?
What about success. Is it important to you?
What’s your next dream?
What would you like people to remember about you?
(1) SEAN SCULLY EXHIBITION SCHEDULE
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington DC. 21 Sept 2018 – 24Feb 2019.
Sculpture in the City (Group), Willis Towers site. London . June 2018 – June 2019
The land/ The line . Kerlin gallery. Dublin. 5 October 2018. 17 November 2018
Uninsideout, Blain|Southern, London. 3 Oct -17 Nov 2018
Sean Scully, The Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT. Feb 23rd – May 19th 2019
Sean Scully, Sea Star, National Gallery, London. 15 April – 11 August 2019
Vita Duplex, LWL-Museum for Art and Culture, Munster, Germany. April – Sept 2019
Sean Scully, Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy. May – Nov 2019
Sean Scully, The Albertina, Vienna, Austria. 28 May – 8 Sept 2019-Feb 2019.
Inside Outside, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Yorkshire, UK. 29 Sept 2018 – 6 Jan 2019 Frieze Sculpture (Group). 3 July – 7 Oct
Landlines and other recent works, De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands : 21April – 26 August 2018
Vita Duplex, Staatliche Kunstahlle Karlsruhe, Germany : 24 March – 5 August 2018
Sean Scully : No Words, Edward Hopper House, Nyack, NY : 9 March – 27 May 2018
Facing East, State Russian Museum – St Petersburg, Russia : 15 February – 9 April 2018 (travels from Moscow)
Standing on the Edge of the World, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong : 26 March – 30 April 2018
Facing East (The Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow) 3 November – 10 December 2017
Sean Scully, Cuadra San Cristobal, Mexico, 6 February – 21 March 2018
Sean Scully: 1970, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. 14 July – 14 Oct 2018
Support independent news on art.
Your contribution : Make a monthly commitment to support JBH Reports or a one off contribution as and when you feel like it. Choose the option that suits you best.
Need to cancel a recurring donation? Please go here.
The donation is considered to be a subscription for a fee set by the donor and for a duration also set by the donor.