Rich, dense and compact in its strong interconnective use of colour and form, Wall of Light is a large and powerful work that, as its title suggests, deliberately emulates the interdependent structural elements of a wall. This imposing sense of mass is however, ultimately denied by the vacillating nature of the painting's radiant hues and the uncertain edges of components in such a way that they actively encourage and allow its strangely hermetic framework to breathe. The simple configurations of alternating red, warm orange, sombre grey and rich black are in fact built up from multiple layers of differently coloured pigments. Underpainting seeps between the seams of these units, archeologically revealing the history of the painting's creation and igniting the composition with a palpable sense of tension. Instead of being cold and rationally precise, Scully's brick-like blocks of colour strike a balance between geometric structure and the energy and irregularity of the hand, lending an emotional dimension to non-representational art in a way that echoes the emotive power of the great works of Mark Rothko in the 1950s and 60s. Indeed, Scully has often cited Rothko's paintings as having a significant impact on his own artistic career. Like his forerunner, he also seeks to express something of the human condition though the surprisingly complex relationships that can exist between very simple forms and colours.
Sean Scully's Wall of Light series is among his most important and extensive bodies of work to date. In these works, Scully set aside the multi-panel constructions and visual hierarchies of his earlier paintings in favour of unified, tightly interlocking units of colour. The inception of the series occurred during a visit to Mexico in 1983-4, where Scully became fascinated by the play of light on the ancient Mayan ruins of Yucutan. He painted several small watercolours inspired by the roughly stacked stones at the time, but it was not until 1998 that he began to use their more organic, less formulaic approach in the all of Light series, broadening his palette and softening the edges of his brush strokes, whilst his familiar straps and stripes were transformed into 'bricks' of colour.
Although Wall of Light was initially inspired by the specific light effects of the Yucutan, Scully has since used this seemingly structured network to explore numerous variations of colour, time, atmosphere and place. The evolution of the series was the subject of a major touring exhibition in 2005-2006 entitled Sean Scully: Wall of Light, which was displayed at The Phillips Collection, Washington; the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth; the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.