Sean Scully (B. 1945)
Dead Sea
signed 'SCULLY' (three times on the reverse)
oil on canvas
96 1/8 x 72 x 5½ in. (244.2 x 182.9 x 14 cm.)
Executed in 1989.
Collection of the artist.
Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne.
Private collection, London, 1990.
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, London, 23 June 2004, lot 35.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Sean Scully, exh. cat., Bologna, Villa della Rose, March-September 1996, p. 11 (illustrated).
Cologne, Galerie Karsten Greve, Sean Scully, December 1989-February 1990.

Lot Essay

In Dead Sea, Sean Scully paints thick, textured bands of black and pale grey, rhythmically organized around a central rectangle of deep red. Scully is best known for his monumental works in oil, and Dead Sea gains its vast height from a vertical diptych format. The artist also composes the work with one of his signature inserts, painted in vivid brick red, conflating illusionistic and tangible space. Drawing on Piet Mondrian's architectonic grid and Rothko's luminous chromatic harmonies, Scully's work reconciles architectonic form with expressive gesture, vivid red with subdued grey-scale. Here he shows his painterly style for which he is best known: with a hand-drawn grid, he abandons precise delineation for a looser, wavering line, and blends layers of color to create an evanescent composition.
From the beginning of his artistic career, Scully was influenced by the traditions of Abstract Expressionism. The powerful and mystical Dead Sea, whose permutations of elemental bands of vertical and horizontal lines finds systemic power and rhythm. The signature motif came to him on his influential trip to Morocco in 1969. There, the artist found inspiration in the geometric patterns of local, hand-dyed cloth and the faded and fragmented facades of the buildings. Like a lavish painted patchwork, Dead Sea possesses the graphic clarity of Mondrian, but aligns with Rothko's meditative tone and layered color. Like Rothko, Scully is above all, a gestural painter; in Dead Sea, his paints with varied brushstrokes to create a luxuriant painted surface, tracing his movements across the canvas, with lush, worked-over paint. Despite its resolute abstraction, Dead Sea calls to mind the poetic compositions of Giorgio Morandi, as both display subdued, chalky pigments, strong contrasts of light and dark and deep, enigmatic emotional charge. Like his Italian predecessor, Scully paints his 1989 work with a thoughtful consideration of space, light and beauty.

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