Checker Blue is a stirring testament to Sean Scully’s deeply devotional practice of painting. The artist’s approach to abstraction is not a conceptual or analytical exercise, but a life-affirming method of communication with the viewer, each brush stroke containing much more than just visual information: “Paint strokes do a number of things, but they do not simply describe the form in my work: they affirm the human spirit, the involvement of the human spirit” (S. Scully, Resistance and Persistence: Selected Writings, London, 2006, p. 25). As such, Scully’s art can be considered as diametrically opposed to the rigorous, clinical detachment of much contemporary painting. Whereas certain strands of Minimalism or Conceptual art have used painting to demonstrate complicated formal concerns, Scully uses himself as a conduit for paint to express fundamental truths: “The power of a painting,” he said in 2003, “has to come from the inside out, not the outside in. It’s not just an image; it’s an image with a body, and that body has to contain its spirit” (S. Scully, Ibid., p. 122).
Impeccably balanced and serene, Checker Blue presents four rows of three colorful squares, their surfaces gently modulated with fleet brushstrokes. This sturdy, architectural structure can be seen as being derived from one of the heralds of abstraction, Piet Mondrian. There are also echoes of the stillness and repetitive motifs of Italian artist, Giorgio Morandi. However, from the beginning of his career, Scully has been most profoundly motivated by the work of the Abstract Expressionists, particularly Mark Rothko. His first encounter with Rothko’s work was in 1967. This had a decisive impact on Scully, as he never returned to representational painting, instead pursuing a unique form of geometric abstraction. The stacked squares of color in Checker Blue are immediately reminiscent of Rothko’s luminous abstractions of dissolving colors. Precision is abandoned and is replaced by a looser, more painterly style with layers of subtly blended color. Like Rothko, Scully’s fine color combinations are emotionally charged, powerfully resonating with the viewer and illustrating the innate spirituality that is present throughout the artist’s oeuvre.
Influenced by the Abstract Expressionists, Scully aimed to bring poetry into abstraction, developing his own unique artistic language, illuminated by the spiritual. Twentieth-century artist Barnett Newman, he noted, “tried to make a space that was spiritually charged, and that is what I try to do in my work too. I basically believe the world is filled with spiritual energy and am very involved with things that attract it” (S. Scully, Ibid., p. 90). Scully’s art, with its complex, transcendental depth, communicates a vitality connected with both a natural and an otherworldly light.