Sean Scully - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Sean Scully, 'Red Bar', Lot 30

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004

  • Exhibited

    Dublin, Kerlin Gallery, Sean Scully: New Paintings, March 31 - April 30, 2004

  • Literature

    Shane de Blacam, “Crann Soilse - The Wall of Light”, Architecture Ireland, May 2004, p. 44 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Red Bar exemplifies Sean Scully’s mastery of the stripe, a geometric motif that has figured predominantly in his formal and structural vocabulary throughout his oeuvre. Painted in 2003-2004, the work is an arresting example from the artist’s acclaimed Wall of Light series, which he began in 1998 and continues to the present day. Inspired by visits to Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s, Scully began considering the effect of light on ancient stone ruins. Working first in watercolor, he explored the parameters of paint in depicting the visual experience of the interaction between rock and light, which resulted in his distinctive stripes assuming the form of rectangular blocks, or—as Scully refers to them—“bricks.” The bricks in Red Bar, which together compose a “wall” of paint, are executed in earth tones of rust, yellow, tawny, and black. Featuring a palette that visually anchors the work and a composition reminiscent of architectural structures, Red Bar recalls ancient monuments such as Stonehenge and Mayan stone walls. This abstract tangibility allows Scully to explore in Red Bar both the physical and ephemeral through the transition between light and dark.

    Red Bar is a manifestation of Scully’s idiosyncratic painting process, during which he thickly builds upon layers of paint and blocks of color to create a dense structure. The contrasting tones and compactness of paint beget the appearance of solidity; Scully illuminated that “the way I’m painting directly affects the weight of the paint and thus the color. Everything is painted into its place, as the title ‘wall’ implies I’m building a surface, but I’m building out of feeling directly, and this feeling has rhythm” (Sean Scully, quoted in Kevin Power, “Questions for Sean Scully”, April 2003, online). The duality between the horizontal and vertical bricks charges Red Bar with rhythm and emotion and the uneven application of paint grants the slabs a sense of vitality. Moreover, the dichotomy of opaque and translucent bricks – paired with the emotive paint layers – imbues an aura of dynamism to the otherwise still abstraction. Lending support to one another, the bricks are still slightly spaced apart, allowing for an under-layer of paint to sneak into the visual comprehension of the work. The consequential perception of depth engenders an illusion of light, whose juxtaposition with the physicality of the dense brick suggests another world that is inaccessible, or literally walled off, to the viewer.

    Scully’s employment of the stripe in Red Bar is redolent of both modernist objectivity and post-war abstraction’s meditative compositions, evoking Piet Mondrian’s geometric vocabulary, Mark Rothko’s color masses, and Barnett Newman’s zips. While his formal decisions are certainly informed by these artists, Red Bar also reflects Scully’s painterly – even expressionist – approach. “Artists who want to ‘get at something’ to represent a profound moment with intimacy have to work with the simple. So obviously, my work is relating to Mondrian and Newman, but my painting solution is very different,” Scully has elucidated. “Mine includes sensuality and the body and I pursue a kind of pathos that is ever-present in our attempts to capture these moments” (Sean Scully, quoted in Kevin Power, “Questions for Sean Scully”, April 2003, online). Scully has also cited Impressionist painting as a precursor to his Wall of Light series: the raw, blurred edges of the bricks are a reference to the optical sensitivity present in Édouard Vuillard’s works such as The Laden Table, circa 1908, Tate, London. Coalescing French modernism’s interest in human perception with the expressive gesture of Abstract Expressionism, Red Bar is the culmination of a century-long investigation of abstraction.

    Red Bar demonstrates the raw power and storytelling capacity of Scully’s Wall of Light series that was celebrated in the exhibition “Sean Scully: Wall of Light” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2006-2007. Scully has a penchant for simultaneously using abstraction and physicality to contemplate universal, transcendental experiences: as the artist himself has stated, “I’m trying to turn stone into light” (Sean Scully, quoted in David Grosz, “The Miracle of Turning Stone into Light”, New York Sun, September 28, 2006, online). As in A Wall of Light White, 1988, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Wall of Light Brown, 2000, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Red Bar exhibits Scully’s ability to succinctly capture a sense of place while conveying vivid emotion through color, light, and solidity.

Property of an Important European Private Collector


Red Bar

signed, titled and dated "RED BAR Sean Scully 1.04" on the reverse
oil on canvas
85 x 75 1/8 in. (215.9 x 190.8 cm.)
Painted in 2003-2004.

$900,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $1,760,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019