“The inspiration for DORIC was the architectural form that accompanied the birth of Democracy. Athens being the cradle of Democracy, and all that followed in the west, was what I wanted to pay homage to. I wanted to express order and humanism. It is very rare that an artist’s intentions are met so directly by location, so it is extraordinary that their world premier takes place in the city they refer to: Athens.”
—S. SCULLY, quoted in http:/www.benaki.gr/index.asp?lang=en&id=202010001&sid=1175 [accessed 9 August 2016]
“Abstraction is the art of our age it’s a breaking down of certain structures, an opening up. It allows you to think without making obsessively specific references, so that the viewer is free to identify with the work. Abstract art has the possibility of being incredibly generous, really out there for everybody. It’s a non-denominational religious art. I think it’s the spiritual art of our time.”
—S. SCULLY, ‘Some Basic Principles,’ in B. Kennedy, Sean Scully: The Art of the Stripe, Hanover 2008, p. 13
With its refined pattern of horizontal and vertical lines laid across the canvas in broad swathes of warm taupe, black and russet brown pigment, Doric Light (2011) is a sumptuous work from Sean Scully’s Doric Order series. Thick beams of paint coalesce across the canvas, creating an abstract visual language of geometric colour blocks that lies at the heart of the artist’s oeuvre. Scully’s painting process remains transparent within the canvas as planes of colour reflect his artistic hand in every brushstroke. His expressive handling of pigment adds a tactile dimension and introduces a humanistic quality to each self-contained rectangular unit, building a harmonious composition that offsets the stringent architecture of its forms with a poetic tonal rhythm. Rectilinear edges suffuse one another, softening the geometric forms and developing atmospheric blurs of colour. Scully integrates these liminal spaces as introspective realms ‘for thought, for light, for question and growth’ (S. Scully, quoted in http:/www.hughlane.ie/past/802-sean-scully-doric [accessed 9 August 2016]).
Doric Light was included in the exhibition of the Doric Order series at the Museum of Art in Athens and IVAM in Valencia in 2012. Scully, who regularly utilizes his series to explore a metaphorical theme, incorporates transcendental colours and forms to symbolise and celebrate the civilisational ideals of ancient Greece. The polychromatic blocks iconic of Scully’s oeuvre, initially inspired by the coloured façades and geometric structures seen on a trip to Morocco in the 1960s, now take on the form of Doric columns. His incorporation of these columns is a pointed allusion to the fundamental principles of democracy and order that have unified humanity since antiquity. Explicitly, the Doric columns, which developed in tandem with these canonic principles, pay homage to the lasting legacy of ancient Greece, while simultaneously forming an acute and timely political critique. Scully’s preference for the least adorned classical order, comparable to the simplified forms of the composition, implies a condemnation of the contemporary subversion of longstanding values of humility and moderation and our modern predilection for excess.
Scully has consistently explored the perceptual potential of art throughout his career. Upon admission to Harvard in 1972, he adopted a practice of pure abstraction, influenced by the formal purity of Minimalist art embraced by his contemporaries. However, restricted by Minimalism’s rejection of conceptual readings, Scully soon began to develop his own unique artistic syntax by combining Minimalism’s exploration of form and colour with Abstract Expressionism’s investigation into the expressive capacity of abstract forms. His hybrid style celebrates the legacy of notable Abstract Expressionists without undermining the formality of his works. Following the tradition of artists such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, Scully’s painting exudes abstract sublimity through the emotive timbre inherent in his energetic brushstrokes, dense application of paint and the interplay of forms. Scully concedes, ‘Newman tried to make a space that was spiritually charged, and that is what I try to do in my work too,’ adding that he believes the world to be ‘filled with spiritual energy’ (S. Scully, ‘On Mythology, Abstraction, and Mystery’ in F. Ingleby (ed.), Sean Scully: Resistance and Persistence: Selected Writings, London 2006, p. 90). In Doric Light, Scully’s interpretation of these two post-War genres is evident in his exploration of the fundamental and enduring qualities of the classical order through austere yet delicate symmetry and subtle rhythms of hue. The work’s graceful balance of formal elements and emotional resonance creates an elegant commemoration of classical values.