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Sean Scully

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Name: Sean

Surname: Scully

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As you explore the decades-spanning retrospective of abstract artist Sean Scully, you embark on a journey through the life and creative evolution of a master. Born in Dublin in 1945, Scully grew up under the gray skies of London, finding escape in the vibrant colours of a Matisse painting. This early encounter with expressive art ignited his lifelong passion for painting. 

Sean Scully has lived an extraordinary life and created a prolific body of art that provides insight into the human experience. His paintings exude a poetic meditation on light, surface, and the relationships between shapes. While his art may seem simple, there are layers of depth and symbolism for those willing to look. 

His life's journey from a working-class childhood in London to international acclaim is a testament to passion, perseverance and an unquenchable creative spirit. Like his paintings, Scully's inspiring story contrasts hardship and success, struggle and triumph. Scully's gift to the world is a body of work that both uplifts and challenges us, work that will endure and continue to move people for generations to come.

Sean Scully BIOGRAPHY

Sean Scully
Image Credit: Thaddaeus Ropac

Early Life and Education: Scully's Upbringing in London and Dublin

Where was Sean Scully Born?

Scully was born in 1945 in Dublin, Ireland but grew up in London. 

His working-class upbringing and surroundings in London came to influence his art. Scully attended Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1968. 

He got degree in Master of Fine Arts from Chelsea School of Art in London in 1972. During these formative years, Scully was exposed to a wide range of art forms that shaped his aesthetic, from the geometric abstractions of Piet Mondrian to the raw, expressive works of Jean Dubuffet.

What Age is Sean Scully?

He is 78 years old now.

What is Sean Scully known for?

Sean Scully
Image Credit: KEWENIG

Sean Scully is one of the most influential abstract artists of his generation. His signature expressive and emotive abstract painting style has inspired countless emerging artists. Scully’s impact on art education and championing of abstract expressionism ensures his far-reaching legacy.

Scully’s paintings demonstrate his mastery of abstract expressionism, a movement he has helped sustain over his decades-long career. His textured, vibrant paintings are a contemporary evolution of the expressive abstract style pioneered by artists like Jackson Pollock. Scully has built upon this tradition, incorporating personal symbols and a sense of spirituality in his work. His paintings are a testament to the enduring power of abstract art to convey deep meaning.

Career highlights

Sean Scully
Image Credit: The New York Times

Early Influences: Figurative Painting

Early in his career, Scully painted figuratively, influenced by Post-Impressionism and German Expressionism. He was particularly interested in the dynamic and symbolic power of colour. Scully credited Vincent Van Gogh as an inspiration for his expressive brushstrokes and use of colour.


Transition to Abstraction

In the 1970s, Scully transitioned to abstract painting, incorporating geometric forms and stripes. Minimalism influenced him but aimed to bring emotion and spirituality to the style. Scully's abstract paintings explore light, colour, and texture through the poetic interplay of rectangles. He likened them to “little chapels... places of meditation.”


Early Abstract Works

After graduating, Scully began exploring abstraction through painting. His early abstract works featured geometric forms, grids, and stripes in subdued colours.

1973-74

“Robina”

These paintings demonstrate Scully’s early experimentation with geometry, hard edges, and minimal color palettes.

1975-77

“Backs and Fronts”

 Scully’s paintings at this time were still somewhat minimal, but over the 1970s, his works grew more prosperous and layered. He started incorporating metal strips, wood blocks, and denim fabric into his paintings, adding texture and depth. Scully’s art was also increasingly influenced by his frequent travels, especially to Morocco. 

The colours and forms of Moroccan architecture began to seep into his paintings. By the end of the 1970s, Sean Scully had established himself as a leading abstract artist, pioneering a unique lyrical and geometric abstraction style.


What Type of Art does Sean Scully Do?

  • Abstraction

  • Hard-edge Painting


Scully's Stripe Paintings: How Did Sean Scully Become Famous?

Sean Scully is most well known for his abstract paintings featuring colourful stripes. This minimalistic style featuring rectangular bars of colour placed horizontally and vertically became Scully’s signature. His stripe paintings brought him international fame and established him as a pioneer of abstract art.

Scully was inspired by minimalism and abstraction but wanted to create work that conveyed emotion and spirituality. He found that basic shapes like lines and rectangles resonated with him and allowed him to explore depth, rhythm, and texture. Scully’s stripes represent a balance of control and chaos, rigidity and expressiveness.

The stripe paintings feature varying widths of stripes in complementary hues like red and green or blue and orange. Scully meticulously layers multiple coats of paint to achieve a rich colour and visual complexity that belies the simple forms. The resulting works vibrate with energy. Viewing Scully’s stripe paintings has been described as a contemplative, visceral experience that evokes a sense of solace and wonder.


What Kind of Paint does Sean Scully Use?

Scully has experimented with stripe paintings for over 40 years, varying the bars' width, colour, and orientation. Some photographs feature stripes of a single colour, while others have a riot of hues. Scully has also incorporated lines into aluminum sculptures, prints, and tapestries. His minimalistic style has enduring appeal and has cemented his place as a pioneer of colour-field painting and abstract art. 

Sean Scully List of Work

Sean Scully
Image Credit: Thaddaeus Ropac

Critical Acclaim and Major Exhibitions: From the Guggenheim to the Met

Sean Scully’s distinctive style garnered critical acclaim early in his career, leading to exhibitions at major museums worldwide. His breakout show was at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1981. Positive reviews praised his abstract paintings exploring themes of opposition and duality.


Major Retrospectives and Honors

1993

The Guggenheim Museum held a mid-career retrospective of Scully’s work, spanning two decades. The exhibition traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., introducing his art to a wider American audience.

2019

The Metropolitan Museum of Art presented a Scully retrospective, featuring 50 paintings from 1975 to the present. The show was lauded as a “triumph” demonstrating Scully’s mastery of abstract art.

1994

Aachen Art Prize

2018

Blakeney Award for Painting

1995

He was made a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London

2012

He was awarded an honorary degree from Trinity College Dublin

2019

Scully donated $1 million to fund graduate art scholarships at his alma mater.

 

Scully's striking abstract paintings are held in the permanent collections of over 70 museums worldwide, including: 

  • Guggenheim

  • Met

  • National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., 

  • Art Institute of Chicago

  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

  • Reina Sofia National Museum in Madrid, Spain


Through exhibitions, honours, and acquisitions at prestigious institutions, Sean Scully has cemented his status as one of his generation's most acclaimed abstract artists. His minimalist paintings exploring light, line, and colour have resonated with critics and collectors for over 40 years. Scully's distinctive style and lifelong dedication to his craft have made him an influential figure in contemporary art.

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