'Now, paint strokes are very crucial to an understanding of my work. The 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' (Sean Scully, Resistance and Persistence: Selected Writings, London, 2006, p. 25).
With its hot orange and yellow hues Montserrat harks back to Scully’s time in Spain. He established a new studio in Barcelona in 1994 and made frequent visits with his wife Liliane Tomasko to the mountainous region of Montserrat, several miles North West of the city. The huge rocky slopes rising dramatically from the surrounding landscape, with the flush ochre façade of Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey perched in their midst, must have been of particular interest to Scully, who has often drawn inspiration from natural and artificial breaks in the landscape, such as the walls of Arran or the horizon.
He observes ‘I try to paint this, this sense of the elemental coming-together of land and sea, sky and land, of blocks coming together side by side and stacked in horizon lines endlessly beginning and ending – the way the blocks of the world hug each other and brush up against each other, their weight, their air, their colour, and the soft uncertain spaces between them’ (Sean Scully, Resistance and Persistence: Selected Writings, London, 2006, p. 125).
This interest in the intersection of forms is evident in Montserrat. The textured edges of his overlapping colour planes and the undulating brush marks in the orange and grey hues vibrate like heat waves dividing sun baked stones from the landscape behind. Although the work consists of large interlocking forms it is full of a sense of anticipation, the grid work is just off kilter and the soft light tones running through the joints give the impression that the piece will race away at any moment.
Though Scully’s oeuvre may seem to concern itself with large colour palette contrasts, he is far more concerned with the depth of colour. Along with Giorgio Morandi and Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko had a tremendous influence on his work in his layering of translucent colours into unique geometric compositions. As with Rothko colour and the subtle combinations of layered brush work are key to his oeuvre. Scully observes ‘there are no simple colours in my work… there are no whites, no reds. Colours are always subverted by the colours underneath, so when you’re looking at something you’re never quite sure what you’re looking at’ (S. Scully, quoted in H. Amirsadeghi and M. Homayoun Eisler (eds.), Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and their Studios, London, 2011, p. 112).