Monthly Archives: November 2016

Sean Scully in his own words

 

Sean Scully in his own words

Taken from the exhibition catalog, “Sean Scully: Body of Light”

These days there are several abstract painters I really like. For example, Brice Marden, Gerhard Richter, Christopher Wool and Angela de la Cruz etc really impress me. I also like the work of Sean Scully and think it’s interesting to read what he has to say as it enables me to understand what he’s trying to do. For this reason I have decided to collect some of his quotes and post them below.

 

Now for the quotes:

I put the things in competition with each other. So that, instead of trying to paint a relationship, I paint the areas and put them together and that makes a relationship, that is a relationship. But the relationships are not completely controlled or they’re not completely articulated. They’re rather sculptural in that sense. So the relationships in the paintings have the possibility of extreme transience or extreme dislocation. It’s as if things are together, but they also have the possibility of asserting their independence from each other. So the paintings are relational but the relationships are at the same time independent. This has got something to do with the basic concept of the work. Usually the relationships are not painted on the surface. So I’m trying to take painting forward, in terms of content, I’m not resorting to earlier models in that regard. I keep the areas separate and I bang things together. So this involves a certain kind of violence or abruptness and it also implies the possibility that the relationships can be broken.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 71).

If you choose the fine arts, you are left with an object. If you choose the martial arts, you are left with a memory. What I try to do is take this knowledge, this way of being which Karate embraces, and put it into my paintings … Life is banal until it is invested with a commitment and painting and karate are no different from anything else in that respect. The forms which I use in my painting, the stripes, may appear to be banal, but they are given another life when the body and the intellect and the emotions are harnessed together.

Sean Scully, cited in Paul Bonaventura, ‘It’s all a question of intensity’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), London: Waddington Galleries, 1992, n.p.

I’m interested in the limits of the medium, physically.

Sean Scully, interview with R. Eric Davis, ‘Sean Scully’s preoccupations’, On Paper, vol. 2, no. 6, July–August 1998, pp. 24–29 (p. 26).

I’m trying to articulate abstraction. Abstraction is the art that’s capable now of handling so many areas which other forms of art can’t deal with. Abstraction is flat, it can completely liberate the artwork.

Sean Scully, interview with Adrian Dannatt, ‘I don’t have the American ambition of being the next great abstract artist’, Flash Art, vol. 25, no. 164, May–June 1992, pp. 103–105 (p. 104).

I never abandoned geometry but my work stopped being flat and gave up its search for geometrical perfection as Mondrian, for example, had done. In searching for a more human and spiritual dimension I began to look for a synthesis between colour learnt from nature and cultural memory, as if bridging the divide and going back in time to Cimabue and Velazquez. I love Spain for its spiritual sense and its colour. Velazquez’s colour, his whites, blacks, pinks and his melancholy. I am not drawn to tragedy: I believe that it is always possible to overcome it and that in the end a ray of light will shine through. I try to express light, and express hope. That’s how I would sum up my ambition and though my work is not in fashion, I trust that there are people ready to support it.

Sean Scully, cited in Maria Lluïsa Borràs, ‘Sean Scully: Immensely human’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Barcelona: Galeria Carles Taché, 2003, n.p.

Harmony is coming out of what you know. It’s affirming what you already know. And as Einstein said: ‘when I know something, I don’t have to think about it.’ So disharmony is much more interesting and life affirming than harmony, because disharmony eventually, through history, we change into harmony.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 79).

Sometimes it is quite hard to imagine [the results of printmaking processes] … it is quite exciting. There is a lot of experimentation in working on prints. It is a bit like alchemy, it is quite medieval in that sense. You are dealing with acid, water, resin, heat and you cannot control it exactly and the amount of concentration required to make a spitbite is quite exhausting in a way.

Sean Scully, interview with Julia Klüser, in Sean Scully, Prints: Catalogue raisonné 1968–1999, Vienna: Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Gravelines: Musée du Dessin et de l’Etampile Originale, Wuppertal: Von der Heydt-Museum, 1999, pp. 143–145 (p. 144).

Back then I thought that with time Europe would become like that United States which I considered to be the ultimate in progress. But I’m glad to say that I have had a radical change of mind. The Europe of today outstrips by far that country which, nowadays, is partly an artificial, virtual world. Any given town in the United States is absolutely identical to any other town. Everything is uniform, eerily similar. There are people who have no idea what roots are and are ready to move to another place for whatever reason. The worst thing is that they cannot understand European quality. They don’t seem to understand that people in Europe have their own criteria, different from the established, and that that is what drives them to rebel, to break the rules. For me the North American world is largely flat and anonymous. Nowadays the difference with Europe is greater than before, much more than thirty years ago.

Sean Scully, cited in Maria Lluïsa Borràs, ‘Sean Scully: Immensely human’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Barcelona: Galeria Carles Taché, 2003, n.p.

[When] I broke, when my parents broke with the Catholic Church and took me out of [Catholic school] because there was a big fight about them working seven days a week, I went to a state school and this was a traumatic shock for me. So I was moved from a world of ideas and a world that was quite delicate, where the children were quite delicate, into a world that was grey, hard, spiritually empty and very violent — the state school in other words. I can describe it to you in colour. One was black, white and red and the one I entered was grey and it was made of stone and it was very frightening to me and I think that’s when my … need to replace that sense of loss began.

Sean Scully, interview with Irving Sandler, February 1997, Sean Scully: Paintings (exhibition catalogue), Manchester: Manchester City Art Gallery, 1997, pp. 34–47 (p. 34).

Ned Rifkin: What is the black and white?
You come back to black and white all the time,
so how is it for you? What does it represent?

Sean Scully: It’s the absolute colour equivalent of the horizontal and the vertical. So when I’m doing something in black and white that’s horizontal and vertical, I am at my purest. I am at my most fundamental, my most unworldly, probably, my most unsensuous, and perhaps my most spiritually ambitious.

Sean Scully, interview with Ned Rifkin, in Ned Rifkin (ed.), Sean Scully: Twenty years 1976–1995, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, pp. 57–80 (p. 77).

I felt that around the turn of the century, there were two artists who understood the 20th century in a very profound way: one was van Gogh, who understood it with a sense of urgency and hysteria that force him to make his paintings so physical that they were like Braille. And what Matisse did was to make paintings, where things were not quite completed, or things were painted in different ways on the same painting. And he also understood the idea of a window. And what I’ve done is to exploit this potential. The idea of a window is not simply an architectural device, it’s about two realities. By closing the space down, by destroying the space and bringing everything onto the same surface I try to empower the person looking at the painting, to be involved in a way empathetically where they complete the painting themselves.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 79).

The other thing I think about a lot when I paint, is the brutality of reality. The fact that we are physical. And my paintings begin with that premise or they obey the human condition that we’re physical — we’re physical, but we don’t want to be. We want to be spiritual. Or we want to be both. Or any combination thereof … So, in my paintings I tried to make them both. And the fact that they’re painted with thick paint is acknowledging the fact that they’re made with stuff. And the materiality has a lot to do with this idea of skin.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 79).

What I’m trying to do is something about modern life … I want to express that we live in a world with repetitive rhythms and that things are existing side by side that seem incongruous or difficult. Yet, out of that, is our truth. It expresses where we are. I think the beauty that we have now has more to do with the relationships that we make, than it has to do with the way we make things, because we’re not living in an age of crafts. When we lived in an age of crafts it had much more to do with the way that single objects were made. But now it seems to me that we make things in a different way. It’s the relationship between things that expresses our truth, expresses some kind of spirituality that we have, or the possibility of this. And it’s the way that these modern relationships are reflected in the paintings that makes me, I think, into a kind of realist. So they are in a way kind of realism, but it’s a romantic realism.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 103).

I think my paintings rely on repression and expression, which in me, of course, causes great discomfort, great unease and struggle. In a certain way, the paintings are based on a distrust of both possibilities.

Sean Scully, cited in Sean Scully and Mimmo Paladino, ‘In at the deep end’, Modern Painters, vol. 6, no. 2, Summer 1993, pp. 25–27 (p. 25).

My work is based on immersion … I am taking on the history of art, I’m immersed in it and I’m immersed in what I make. I am what I make in other words; there is no difference.

Sean Scully, interview with R. Eric Davis, Journal of Contemporary Art, 1999,
on-line version, http://www.jca-online.com/scully.html, downloaded 18 April 2004.

The reason I don’t use the diagonals much is because the diagonal is everything that is in between the horizontal and the vertical stated, whereas I’ve come to believe that in my work, the best way for me to represent everything in between is not to state it, to capture it by stating the two ends, and somehow imply everything in between. The diagonal insinuates itself, that’s another thing. It’s an insinuating form.

Sean Scully, interview with Ned Rifkin, in Ned Rifkin (ed.), Sean Scully: Twenty years 1976–1995, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, pp. 57–80 (p. 72).

Sean Scully: [My pastels] don’t have the material certainty of the paintings. So the relationship between the idea and the material is more fragile in the pastels. With the pastels it’s almost as if you could blow them away. It’s like dust in the desert. They are very interesting to make — that you’re pressing down powder.

Hans-Michael Herzog: That’s very ephemeral in a way.

Sean Scully: I think the pastels have that quality — they hover between being there and not being there.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (pp. 97–99).

‘I would say my works on paper have had a big influence on my paintings in the last two or three years. The paint has become thinner, and I have allowed the skin of the painting to become less physically emphatic.’

Sean Scully, interview with R. Eric Davis, ‘Sean Scully’s preoccupations’, On Paper, vol. 2, no. 6, July–August 1998, pp. 24–29 (p. 24).

[To show] the way you do something is very important … it’s a moral, ethical stance; the process should be evident in the result, and it should have a relationship to the result which is still in the work.

Sean Scully, interview with Ned Rifkin, in Ned Rifkin (ed.), Sean Scully: Twenty years 1976–1995, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, pp. 57–80 (p. 60).

In New York I used to spend a lot of time — for a while — shooting pool for money, when I was poor. And I would love to go out at night. I find the colours at night incredibly mysterious and beautiful. And that’s of course the romantic impulse. And those dark colours — dark blue, black, grey, dark brown, dark green, greys — come from the air of the night. And the night for me is a time of great tranquillity and mystery and in a way equilibrium. I find night extremely beautiful, because it’s the end of the day, but it hasn’t reached the point of finality — it’s before sleeping. I tend to function best in the afternoon and in the night. So my colours, I think, reflect this. They are not the colours of morning … So I think that my colour has a lot to do … with the colour in the city. The way that the buildings are painted and the way that light hitting the buildings changes them. But it’s never simple colour, because I work wet into wet. I keep painting and painting and painting until I find the colour on the painting, which is why they are more or less impossible to reproduce. Because the colours are so complicated. A lot of the times I play with the colours; and what I do with them is I mix them up or pervert them to the point, where they almost lose their identity in relation to the name that they are given, because we give colours different names like blue, black, red — but there are many colours that are on the edge of these categories and these are the kinds of colours that I tend to use.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 109).

The structure I use is very subjective, and there is a kind of momentum where the energy flies off the edge of the painting and is propelled on to the next painting … It’s very easy for a lot of abstraction, for a lot of painting, to get sentimental or mushy … there’s something about breaking the fiction that somehow, to me, gives the work nobility and dignity as a thing in the world … A lot of abstraction can get so self-indulgent. It’s like a kind of gentleman’s sport. It is so rarefied … it really is the artist in his ivory tower. After Rothko it’s very easy for an artist to get seduced by that and to get seduced also by Mondrian with his wonderful sensuality. And then they get vague, self-indulgent, and sophomoric in their work. I’ve tried to make my paintings moving, powerful, and necessary but to give them a kind of nobility — a physical strength so that they are proud of who they are … They are beautiful but also potent.

Sean Scully, cited in John Caldwell, ‘The new paintings’, Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Pittsburgh: Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 1985, pp. 17–21 (p. 20).

My paintings are very much about power relationships, or they’re about things having to survive within the competition, composition … the composition is a competition for survival. It’s interesting that something small can stand up and be in a composition, dynamically, and have to deal with something much bigger. There’s a sort of equal relationship there.

Sean Scully, interview with Ned Rifkin, in Ned Rifkin (ed.), Sean Scully: Twenty years 1976–1995, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, pp. 57–80 (p. 66).

[What] has been of great interest to me always is the idea of the window. There’s something very moving about a window. When I grew up in London, I used to live far away from where I worked, so I used to have to travel the whole width of the city by train. London is different from other cities, though parts of San Francisco are similar, but there you are going through a city of windows, perhaps more than in any other city. The windows of London are very important. Every house, and they are mostly Victorian houses, has beautiful, big windows and when you are going by you see these wonderful little vignettes of people leading their lives. When the lights come on in the evening, and people don’t draw the curtains, it’s so beautiful to go by in a train. Train lines tend to pass by the backs of houses, so people have their guards down, and you see them in all kinds of situations: some of them are stark naked! A window is a promise, like a doorway. A facade is not totally relentless because of the window and the door. That’s what humanises the wall.

Sean Scully, interview with Constance Lewallen, View, vol. 5, no. 4, Fall 1988, pp. 1–22 (p. 10).

It’s very important to me that in a certain sense I don’t have a nationality. And when people ask me what I am, I usually say nothing. I think ‘nothing’ is a pretty good place to start from.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 105).

It’s been an enormous struggle to get where I am … in art school, they kept telling me I had no ability … but it’s a matter of how you see. It’s an act of will, of force.

Sean Scully, cited in Amy Lighthill, ‘Portrait of the artist as lightning rod’, Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Pittsburgh: Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 1985, pp. 6–16 (p. 10).

[If] I had a choice between living in suburbia and being dead, I would rather be dead.

Sean Scully, interview with R. Eric Davis, Journal of Contemporary Art, 1999,
on-line version, http://www.jca-online.com/scully html, downloaded 18 April 2004.

I am terrified of the dark. For instance, when I go into my bedroom in there, there’s a lamp next to the bed, so what I have to do is turn on the office light, and then I go to the middle of the room with its pool of light, and then I go to the bed, where there’s a little light next to the bed, and I turn that on. Then I come back out, I turn off the office light, I turn off the big light and I’ve made it to the bed. That’s what I have to do if I’m on my own.

Sean Scully, interview with Ned Rifkin, in Ned Rifkin (ed.), Sean Scully: Twenty years 1976–1995, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, pp. 57–80 (p. 72).

There is a vibration in the surfaces, in the relationship between expressiveness and control. There is something that is implied or suggested, but not said.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 93).

I once sat around in New York with a group of painters, who wanted to meet once a week and have discussions about paintings. This was in the late 70s. And I only went to one meeting, because at the end of a long discussion, it seemed to me that they were trying to make a painting in a way bullet-proof, intellectually. What you could paint was a grey square and the grey had to be a mid-grey square, painted without any expressionistic brush work. That was a minimum painting and that was a painting that you couldn’t argue with. That was also a painting that didn’t say anything. And I don’t think that being an artist is about making yourself bullet-proof. It’s about exposing yourself to attack. Being able to take it.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 89).

I had someone speaking to me the other day about the sublime and the transcendental, and I said my work wasnt all that transcendental. It has mystery in it, and it’s very hot and romantic, but I’m not working toward any absolute. I will talk about the realism in the work, it’s physicality and the violence of cutting into surfaces. I’m quite rutheless and relentless. The works are all about these tensions and contradictions in me. They’re formal yet they’re sexual, austere and mysterious at the same time. Mysterious to me also.

Sean Scully, interview with Adrian Dannatt, ‘I don’t have the American ambition of being the next great abstract artist’, Flash Art, vol. 25, no. 164, May–June 1992, pp. 103–105 (p. 105).

When I’m painting, I’m overlaying and overlaying and I might paint a painting green and I end up painting it black and white and the green is somehow influencing, what you’re looking at. The green informs the tremor along the edges, between the colours. So that what you’re seeing is perhaps a black and white painting, but what you are feeling is a green painting. So that the experience becomes extremely complex. And that’s my intention. It’s the tremor between things that the overlaying of colour can achieve. So that traces of what’s left along the edge or what’s underneath can be felt, but perhaps not seen. And it’s the difference between feeling something and knowing something.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 123).

I like colour because you can’t control it the way you can form. It’s kind of like riding a spirited horse … The only way I can work with it is as a metaphor for spirit.

Sean Scully, cited in Amy Lighthill, ‘Portrait of the artist as lightning rod’, Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Pittsburgh: Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 1985, pp. 6–16 (p. 6).

I wanted to be active rather than passive. And I find perfection in pure symmetry very passive and pacifying. I just don’t think it’s of much use; it’s never been of much use to me. It’s like something that you appreciate. I don’t want to make a painting that somebody just appreciates. I want to make a painting that really somehow empowers the person looking at the painting. It can be through provocation. It can be through the possibility of failure. I think in my paintings there’s a possibility of failure in a lot of them, which I find interesting.

Sean Scully, interview with Ned Rifkin, in Ned Rifkin (ed.), Sean Scully: Twenty years 1976–1995, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, pp. 57–80 (p. 73).

It was about the idea of the narrative — the running narrative, or the idea of the sequential, which brings out an interesting preoccupation of mine. I’m very interested in film, as you are, and I’m interested in the relationship between film and painting, as was Matisse. And if I wasn’t a painter I’m sure I’d be a film maker. I’ve often had ideas of making films. And what I love about film making is the way time can be represented, and the way that location and time and weather and context can be altered in a split second. It’s so lean unlike the theatre where you have got to clunk around all these stupid bits of furniture. The other great thing about film is you can represent whispers, which you cannot in the theatre, because they can’t hear you. This painting is cinematic. The equal nature of the pieces is like film frames. They’re all the same size, they’re sequential. They just run along.

Sean Scully, interview with Ned Rifkin, in Ned Rifkin (ed.), Sean Scully: Twenty years 1976–1995, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, pp. 57–80 (p. 71).

[The] pieces are generally painted separately. And sometimes they’re painted in different rooms. And sometimes they’re painted with tremendously long periods between them. So I’m not thinking about the whole, when I’m painting the pieces. I’m thinking about the pieces, what they are. And when you paint at different times, you feel differently, you are different; so that the spirit in the panels, the spirit in the pieces is different from part to part. So the paintings become emotionally dimensional. That’s my intention.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 77).

I love urban mess and filth — it expresses human nature so poignantly.

Sean Scully, cited in David Carrier, ‘The painter of modern life’, Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 17–53 (p. 27).

The pastels, those big pastels that I make, are very monumental. And they have a dryness. The material is pressed into the paper over and over and over again. Behind glass, they’re blurred, they’re indistinct. They have a physicality, but they have the physicality of powder … or chalk, whereas the paintings are shiny, inherently shiny. In other words a pastel doesn’t really have a skin. It’s full of air. You know, a pastel, one doesn’t get the sense with a pastel that it has an outer skin, that it has a beginning and an end. It seems, well, it’s powder, so one is chasing its outer and inner extremities when one’s looking at it, because you don’t really know where it starts and where it ends. But with the skin of oil paint, you do.

Sean Scully, interview with Ned Rifkin, in Ned Rifkin (ed.), Sean Scully: Twenty years 1976–1995, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, pp. 57–80 (p. 79).

‘When I first came to New York I did a lot of construction work, wall building. There’s something extremely beautiful about making divisions in walls and covering up the wooden frame and leaving little windows and things. The most difficult, tricky part is the fastidious sheet-rocking, the taping and the finishing. Of course, privately I was trying to make it fun for myself, so I was composing; after all, I’m an artist.’

Sean Scully, ‘‘Piecing things together’: a conversation between Sean Scully
and Joseph Masheck’, Sean Scully: Paintings 1985–1986 (exhibition
catalogue), New York: David McKee Gallery, 1986, n.p.

[Watercolour] is made with complete absence of physical effort. In fact, the materiality of it is so fragile, that you’re working with the light of the paper shining through the pigment. It’s almost not there. It’s the point before matter becomes air. Because that’s what water is … water can dissolve into air.

Sean Scully, interview with R. Eric Davis, ‘Sean Scully’s preoccupations’, On Paper, vol. 2, no. 6, July–August 1998, pp. 24–29 (p. 24).

I once read an article on Aztec poetry, which is very repetitive, like reggae. It talked about the poetry as being an art of panic, like a way of painting out space, empty space … Getting rid of emptiness, making everything full-up; in other words, a compulsive desire to make life full-up because you know that you’re not going to be here always.

Sean Scully, interview with Joseph Masheck, ‘Piecing things together’, Sean Scully: Paintings 1985–1986 (exhibition catalogue), New York: David McKee Gallery, 1986, n.p.

[The] watercolours are about the extreme absence of physicality. They really are as close as a painter can get to pure light, an effortless, physically effortless vision.

Sean Scully, interview with Ned Rifkin, in Ned Rifkin (ed.), Sean Scully: Twenty years 1976–1995, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, pp. 57–80 (p. 79).

In a lot of my paintings there is a humidity to the colour, they are never very dry-looking. There is always a kind of dampness to them and this is coming from the sky or the sea, the way that colour seems to float around in the air.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, New York, 13 December 1998, in Sean Scully: Paintings, watercolours, photographs (exhibition catalogue), Düsseldorf: Richter Verlag, 2001, pp. 221–230 (p. 227).

I want to be famous for a reason, and that is to have an effect on the culture. I feel very passionately about the power of art, that art has the ability to affect the way people see the world, now more than ever.

Sean Scully, interview with Constance Lewallen, View,vol. 5, no. 4, Fall 1988, pp. 1–22 (p. 11).

There is something very elemental about taking a plate, covering it with black material, hard ground, and then just scratching out a drawing … And when the acid bites into the metal and the ink sits in the metal and then it is transfered to the paper, it stands up on teh paper and there is an indentation. And then what you have is the result of something that is quite mysterious as a process.

Sean Scully, interview with Julia Klüser, in Sean Scully, Prints: Catalogue raisonné 1968–1999, Vienna: Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Gravelines: Musée du Dessin et de l’Etampile Originale, Wuppertal: Von der Heydt-Museum, 1999, pp. 143–145 (p. 143).

When I was making the painting Heart of Darkness, I was reading the book by Joseph Conrad. It was not the structure of the book but there was an atmosphere that was perhaps influencing the painting. There are certain images of dark rooms, dark spaces, primal forms and quite primitive forms that were influencing the painting. And when I was making the etchings and aquatints for Heart of Darkness I was reading the book again deliberately. So I was allowing the book to be in a sense a companion to me whule I was wortking on those little prints.

Sean Scully, interview with Julia Klüser, in Sean Scully, Prints: Catalogue raisonné 1968–1999, Vienna: Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Gravelines: Musée du Dessin et de l’Etampile Originale, Wuppertal: Von der Heydt-Museum, 1999, pp. 143–145 (p. 145).

I am really an individualist. The question for me is whether or not something moves me and engages me. If I am moved and engaged by something, I find it beautiful … The only thing for me that distinguishes whether or not I think something is moving or profound or necessary or beautiful, they are all more or less the same thing to me, is whether it is convincing. And this in the end comes down to the character of the person making it, not the style in which it is made. I don’t think that works any more.

Sean Scully, interview with R. Eric Davis, Journal of contemporary art, 1999, on-line version, http://www.jca-online.com/scully.html, downloaded 18 April 2004.

The etching room where I made the Raval prints, in Barcelona, is quite dark. There was something very romantic about the whole thing, the light coming into the room, black proofing ink, rags lying around, smoke, the smell of things, acid in the air. Everything is quite dark and everything has got the color of copper. It is copper on old wood and this has an incredible resonance, physical resonance and you have all these pieces of metal that are somewhat distressed and you pick and cut and make into plates. The whole thing is very physical and very atmospheric at the same time and what comes out of this is something that you would not imagine would be possible out of your surroundings, because there is not color anywhere. Its all dark, black and brown.

Sean Scully, interview with Julia Klüser, in Sean Scully, Prints: Catalogue raisonné 1968–1999, Vienna: Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Gravelines: Musée du Dessin et de l’Etampile Originale, Wuppertal: Von der Heydt-Museum, 1999, pp. 143–145 (p. 144).

Maybe if my [work] induces you to meditate it is because in point of fact I want to represent the world, not like a figurative painter does, rather by producing an impact, a simultaneous impression of many things at the same time. Every day I look up at the sky to capture the colour of the day with an anxiety to achieve a synthesis between cultural world, natural world and personal world. Starting out with geometry, which is in fact our mental world, that of architecture, of mathematics, I want to structure the world, to resolve the difference between the geometric world and the cultural world, in perfect communion.

Sean Scully, cited in Maria Lluïsa Borràs, ‘Sean Scully: Immensely human’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Barcelona: Galeria Carles Taché, 2003, n.p.

I want [my art] to leak out into the world … What one has to do is tie abstraction into one’s life.

David Carrier, ‘Piet Mondrian and Sean Scully: two political artists’, Art Journal, vol. 50, no. 1, Spring 1991, pp. 67–70 (p. 69).

[Within] this dynamic, you can make something for yourself that I’m not actually [illustrating] … I’m not trying to dominate the viewer. I’m trying to make a situation that the viewer completes.

Sean Scully, interview with Hans-Michael Herzog, ‘The beauty of the real’,
Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Milan: Charta, 1996, pp. 55–131 (p. 81).

[My work is] not about just this or that, that’s all finished, that authoritarian ideal.

Sean Scully, interview with Adrian Dannatt, ‘I don’t have the American ambition of being the next great abstract artist’, Flash Art, vol. 25, no. 164, May–June 1992, pp. 103–105 (p. 104).

The Arrow

I thought of your beauty, and this arrow,

Made out of a wild thought, I in my marrow.

There’s no man may look upon her, no man,

As when newly grown to be a woman,

Tall and noble but with face and bosom

Delicate in colour as apple blossom.

This beauty’s kinder, yet for a reason

I could weep that the old is out of season.

 

William Butler Yeats In the Seven Woods  1903

Read by Sean Scully at the funeral of his mother.

To move into the fiction — which is the space between the stripes, all that brushwork — to move into the fiction, and to move out of the fiction, to be aware that you’re in the world and at the same time … imagine standing on the edge of the world, if the world was flat, [where you] could see that amazing immense space out there and at the same time — you haven’t fallen off — realise that you are standing on the edge: that’s the kind of situation that I’m trying to maintain in these paintings.

Sean Scully, cited in John Caldwell, ‘The new paintings’, Sean Scully (exhibition catalogue), Pittsburgh: Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 1985, pp. 17–21 (p. 20).

Bigland was called Bigland with the idea of America in mind … [In] Bigland, which is typical of that period, the physicality of the paint [and] of the building of the painting is quite strong, strident and, of course, quite masculine … Bigland is a wall with an abutment and a window. The sides of the canyons in America go some way in explaining abstract expressionism — though of course it was essentially urban, with a sense of the American rural sublime. My own work has been informed also by this duality — being in the vastness of America and working in the grid of New York, carrying with me the love of the intimate compacted European painted surface.

Sean Scully, letter to Michael Desmond, Curator, International Art
(European and American painting and sculpture), [received]
15 November 1999, National Gallery of Australia file 81/1173, folios 82–84.

 

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