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Details
SEAN SCULLY (IRELAND/ USA, B. 1945)
Vincent
oil on linen
190.5 x 203.2 cm. (75 x 80 in.)
Painted in 2002
Provenance
Timothy Taylor Gallery, London
Collection Bankhaus Oppenheim, Cologne
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004
Literature
H. M. Sayre, Writing About Art, New Jersey 2009, pp. 108-109 (illustrated in colour on the front cover).
K. Gover (ed.), Sean Scully: Bricklayer of the Soul, Reflections in Celebration, Ostfildern 2015 (illustrated in colour, p. 147)
Exhibited
London, Timothy Taylor Gallery, Sean Scully: Wall of Light, 2003, p. 37 , pl. 5 (illustrated in colour, p. 23)
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, Wall of Light, 2005- 2006, pp. 62 and 187 (illustrated in colour, p. 63). This exhibition later travelled to Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Cincinnati, Cincinnati Art Museum and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Lot Essay

‘Abstraction is the art of our age; it’s a breaking down of certain structures, and 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 nondenominational religious art. I think it’s the spiritual art of our time’

S. Scully

Painted in 2002, Sean Scully’s large-scale canvas Vincent is awash with autumnal hues: panels of burnt orange, warm umber, terracotta, amber, and ochre are interspersed with rectangular sweeps of cool lilac, mulberry, earthy green and midnight blue. The work comes from Scully’s celebrated ‘Wall of Light’ series, an ongoing body of abstract paintings whose genesis occurred during a visit to Mexico in 1983-84. Enraptured by the play of light on the ancient Mayan ruins of Yucatán, Scully set aside the multi-canvas constructions and visual hierarchies of his earlier paintings, in favour of unified interlocking units of colour that blaze with vitality. It was not until 1998, however, that he began to use the more organic, less formulaic approach that has come to characterise the series today. Highly emotive, these esoteric works seem to simultaneously evoke the monumental and the frail, the formidable and the quietly transient. ‘When light and wall meet, strength and fragility can become symbiotic, as well as symbolic,’ Michael Auping has written of the series. ‘It is this unique effect that Scully increasingly has come to investigate in his paintings … one brushstroke at a time’ (M. Auping, ‘No Longer a Wall’ in S. Bennett Phillips, Sean Scully: Wall of Light, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, New York 2005, p. 23). Indeed, though the brick-like structures of the present work suggest a heavy architectural presence, the artist’s raspy, gestural brushmarks belie its ostensibly weighty demeanour. Each horizontal and vertical stroke of wet-on-wet paint can be clearly traced across the canvas, revealing a complexity of colour which seeps through the cracks like light.

Born in Ireland in 1945, Scully was raised in working-class boroughs of North, and then South, London. These formative years were to have a defining impact on his artistic career: he attended a convent school, where he became captivated by church paintings, and later, whilst working as a builder at seventeen years old, became besotted with the painting and prose of Vincent Van Gogh. He was, notes Stephen Bennet Phillips, ‘deeply affected by van Gogh’s beautiful prose, his idealism, his references to religion and art, and his desire to make the world a better place’ (S. Bennet Phillips, ‘Towards the Light’ in Sean Scully: Wall of Light, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, New York 2005, p. 62). Above all, Scully was drawn to van Gogh’s seminal work from 1888, Van Gogh’s Chair, which he would regularly visit at the Tate where it was housed at the time. Titled in homage to Scully’s great artistic muse, Vincent seems to express the very essence of Van Gogh’s Chair through its raw and primal palette, as if the Dutch artist’s tiled floors had expanded beyond the confines of his painting and seeped into Scully’s patchwork canvas. ‘I am very interested in the idea of creating something that has already gained experience by the time it enters the world,’ Scully has explained. ‘Some of my paintings look as though they have been slept in or lived in’ (S. Scully, quoted in P. Stephen Bennett, Sean Scully: Wall of Light, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, New York 2005, p. 20). As the complexities of colour and surface allow the residue of numerous painterly layers to float and recede from the surface, Vincent invites a deep and contemplative calm.

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