‘A painting has to be unconquerable, and this has something to do with restraint. The content or message of the work … is something that has to be pulled out with effort. … You always have to reach into the painting to kind of pull out what you want to get out of it, and by doing this you are engaged with it, again, and again and again.’
(S. Scully, quoted in Sean Scully: Land Sea, exh. cat., Palazzo Falier, Venice, 2015).
Painted in 2014, Wall of Light Orange Red forms part of Sean Scully’s celebrated ‘Wall of Light’ series, in which the artist explores the quality and play of light through architectural compositions of interlocking blocks of colour. Other examples from this series are held in international museum collections, such as A Wall of Light White, 1998, in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Wall of Light Brown, 2000, in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Dominated by the bold fields of vivid carmine, ardent vermillion and glowing saffron of its title, the warmth of Wall of Light Orange Red is beautifully tempered by planes of deep azure blue, and fragile, modulated turquoise. The artist’s engagement with the act of painting is tangible in the textured, expressive brushstrokes that sweep each block in vertical and horizontal directions, blurring the boundaries between them, softening their geometry, and allowing the colours to filter through one another. In this way, Scully elevates the simple configuration of tessellating shapes into a profound meditation on light and shade: the dark elements of the canvas absorb light, while the lighter sections radiate and reflect it.
In their lack of visual hierarchy and narrative structure, where each block is realised both as a self-contained unit and in balance with the composition as a whole, the ‘Wall of Light’ series betray their genesis in architecture. In 1983, Scully visited the ancient Mayan ruins in Yucatán, Mexico, and, mesmerized by the interaction of geometry and colour he encountered there, recalled: ‘These places in the Yucatán were cities, now you see a wall, what remains, a wall transformed by light, the walls change colour, from pink to blue to red. I would get up early, the shadows completely transform the ruined architecture, they make it seem hopeful one moment, tragic another…’ (S. Scully, quoted in D. Carrier, Sean Scully, London 2004, p. 25). Influenced by the Abstract Expressionists, Scully aimed to bring poetry into abstraction, developing a unique artistic language, which was illuminated by the spiritual: ‘Newman 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, ‘On Mythology, Abstraction and Mystery’ in F. Ingleby (ed.), Sean Scully: Resistance and Persistence: Selected Writings, London 2006, p. 90). Wall of Light Orange Red, with its complex, transcendental depth, communicates a vitality connected with both a natural and an otherworldly light.