Sean Scully (b. 1945)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE SWISS COLLECTION
Sean Scully (b. 1945)

Small Horizontal Robe

Sean Scully (b. 1945)
Small Horizontal Robe
signed, inscribed and dated 'SMALL/HORIZONTAL/ROBE/Sean/Scully/1.03' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
40 x 50 in. (101.6 x 127 cm.)
with Galeria Carles Taché, Barcelona.
Private collection, Europe.
Barcelona, Galeria Carles Taché, Sean Scully, May - July 2003, catalogue not traced.
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Lot Essay

‘A painting, really, is made by its reason for being there. What’s behind it decides everything. It’s not just a question of attractiveness or correctness; it can’t be fixed afterwards or by additions. How it starts will define how it ends. So it’s the weight of the intention that defines everything’ (Scully, quoted in F. Ingleby, Sean Scully, Resistance and Persistence: Selected Writings, London, 2006, p. 122).

'I'm not fighting for abstraction. Those battles have already been fought. I'm using those victories to make an abstraction that is, in fact, more relaxed, more open, and more confident' (Exhibition catalogue, Against the Grain: Contemporary Art from the Edward R. Broida Collection, New York, Museum of Modern Art, May - July, 2006).

A gestural mosaic of coppers, umbers and pewters pave Small Horizontal Robe; it is a field of subtly shifting colours deposited into a firm geometric structure. Mark Rothko’s influence can clearly be seen here in the physical layering of colour, but Scully subverts the freedom of the Abstract Expressionists with approachable order by taming the palette into a cage-like grid. The present work forms part of the ‘Robe’ series: a group characterised by their simple grid-iron compositions that are less complex than Scully’s output of the 1980s and 1990s. Similar to Big Grey Robe, 2002, Small Horizontal Robe is painted on a single canvas and feels softer and more welcoming than other works of the series that are painted on vertical panels pieced together – a technique which creates fiercely sharp contours along the vertical bands.

The series refers to materials and garments and are imbued with meaning. The coloured canvases encourage associations with the coat of the biblical Joseph or with traditional dress seen in Spain and Mexico, countries and cultures that are repeatedly referenced in Scully’s oeuvre. Other less ambiguously titled paintings such as Titians Robe, were inspired by old master paintings that Scully viewed in major public collections and museums.

'The Prado is profoundly important for me. …My biggest influence though is Velázquez. I visit The Infanta, always first. The combination of perverse formalism and ‘strapped in’/repressed emotion seems to me, to be tender tragic and coldly timeless a la vez. This is maybe why he is often considered as the greatest painter of all time. To take this quality and make it contemporary, would be quite something' (Scully, quoted in exhibition catalogue, Sean Scully para García Lorca, Victoria Combalía, Madrid, 2005, p. 43).

Scully’s affiliation to the Infanta can be seen clearly in the simplicity of the ‘Robe’ series. The 17th century work has a structured grid-like composition in the verticals of the curtained screen and long horizontals of Infanta Margarita’s skirts. The bold colour contrasts lift the diverse array of red and orange tones from the dark background, giving the work vibrancy and life. In the present work, Scully creates great depth, not only by the layering of paint in each segment, but also with the contrast and play of tones and hues. His palette consists primarily of black, oranges, blues and greys. Each colour is assigned to three spaces on the canvas but each area is a different tone: whilst there is a continuity in the colour theme, the canvas is at the same time imbued with a sense of depth and movement.

'My paintings talk of relationships. How bodies come together. How they touch. How they seperate. How they live together, in harmony and disharmony... Its edge defines its relationship to its neighbour and how it exists in context. My paintings want to tell stories that are an abstracted equivalent of how the world of human relationships is made and unmade. How it is possible to evolve as a human being in this' (Scully, quoted in W. Smerling, ‘Constantinople or the Sensual Concealed’, in exhibition catalogue, The Imagery of Sean Scully, MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg, 2009, p. 8).

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