Sean Scully - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Juda Rowan Gallery, London
    Private Collection, London (acquired from the above in 1984)
    Marc and Jacqueline Leland, London
    Sotheby's, London, 10 February 2016, lot 56
    Private Collection, London

  • Exhibited

    Aalst, Galerij S65, Sean Scully: schilderijen – tekeningen, 26 October - 2 December 1984 (illustrated on the cover)

  • Literature

    Marla Price, Sean Scully: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume II, 1980-1989, Berlin, 2018, no. 1984.05, p. 112 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘I distinguish between two spheres of reality: one is the physical reality of everyday life and the other corresponds to the realm of art. Abstraction is the spiritual art of our time’. Sean Scully
    ‘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’. Sean Scully

    Sean Scully’s sumptuously rendered canvasses celebrate the possibilities of the medium of painting, their rich strata of tonal variation and architectural linearity exemplary of Scully’s celebrated body of work. Comprised of three tessellated canvasses, Dust encapsulates Scully’s profound experimentation with austere geometry and lyrical contemplation, coalescing in an array of sublime striations of thickly applied impasto and translucent gradations of grey blue, ochre and cherry tones. Evoking an emotive visual resonance through the artist’s symbiosis of formal reduction and painterly poesy, the canvas subsumes our gaze through the hypnotic bands of rich colour and rigorous geometric repetition. Executed in 1984, the present work was painted the same year in which Scully was selected for An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the year preceding Scully’s first solo institutional exhibition in America at the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, which later travelled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

    Primarily drawing upon the tenets of abstraction to transport the viewer into his contemplative painterly sphere, Scully’s repetitive formal pattern, his strips of worked brushstrokes which overlap and intertwine with one another, are hypnotic in their rhythmic vitality. Continuing an aesthetic dialogue with hard abstraction, the squares of Kazimir Malevich and the hard edges of Ad Reinhardt, Scully’s linear bands reverberate through his expressive paint application. Removing the guidelines of tape he used to section his painted stripes in 1981, the artist began to paint freehand, allowing his brushstrokes to bleed, smudge and waver. In the present work and emblematic of his canvasses, Scully creates radiated slithers of colour which border his tonal sections. These contours glimmer through the intensity of his palette, demarcating the wall of sections like tonal channels, furrowing through his composition. Scully’s presence in the creation of the work is felt through the evident stratifying of paint layers; Scully’s abstraction bears the mark of its creator rather than aspiring to a polished, perfected and highly finished surface as displayed in the work of the Minimalists. Through his gestural utilisation of oil, Scully’s painterly canvases are imbued with a poetic quality, wistful in their ability to resonate and conjure distinctive memories and personal experiences. Encapsulating a wealth of associative connotations, Scully’s seemingly boundless canvasses provide a synthesis of painterly profundity and suggestive abstraction. Further dismantling figurative and traditional notions of painting and representation, in the early eighties Scully worked with polyptych canvasses, combining and reusing canvasses to create dynamic compositions comprised of numerous planes, presenting Scully’s trademark stripes either perpendicularly or at a right angle. Using the same tripartite canvas structure as Dust, Scully’s pinnacle work Heart of Darkness, 1982, currently housed in the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, also showcases a similar rotation of lines set against each other, creating a similarly satisfying and intriguing visual tension. Painted two years prior to the present work, the canvas showcases the themes explored in Dust, namely Scully’s exquisite marriage of colour, depth and composition.

    Oscillating between the confines of clean geometry and a looser, more evocative painterly style, the present work is comprised of two notable colour palettes. In the upper section, steely blues, greys and greens envelop us in a colder world, whilst the burnt oranges, reds and yellows of the lower section breath an intense warmth into Scully’s composition. Creating an innate tension, a juxtaposition of formal and subjective preoccupations, the present work suspends the viewer’s gaze in a unique intermission, striking an emotional chord through its compositional and tonal push and pull. Scully’s masterful ability to both simultaneously marry this duality whilst incorporating myriad differences, charge the present work with a natural visual dynamism. Drawing upon the world around him, Scully travelled to Morocco in 1969, the light, sounds and sights leaving an unrivalled impression upon his practice; Scully incorporated the stripes and patterns from local Moroccan textiles into his compositions. Four years before the creation of Dust, Scully travelled to Mexico where, like Josef and Anni Albers, the artist experienced the intense heat, vivid light and scorched, arid colours of the country’s landscape. At odds with the colder climes of the artist’s native Ireland and England, the present work conveys the equatorial divide between the north and south, emphasising the split within his oppositional palette. Leading us on a visual adventure, Scully notes, ‘The need to create comes because you are split and forced to find some kind of unity. I believe that duality is a quality evident in all my work’ (the artist, quoted in, Maria Lluïsa Borràs, ‘The Spiritual Art Of Our Time’, in, Sean Scully. A Retrospective, London, 2007, p. 30).

    Encapsulating a multitude of emotions in his expert handling of colour and line, the present work is paradigmatic of Scully’s transfiguration of hard geometry into a resounding spiritual experience. Capturing the essence of a fleeting or deeply felt emotion, a landscape or a memory, Scully’s paintings strike at the core of human experience, uniting us all through our shared familiarities. Continuing a dialogue with Joseph Mallord William Turner’s tumultuous land and seascapes which begin to explore the possibilities of abstraction, Scully here further reduces the essence of what surrounds us, communicating its organic quintessence through the subtlest expression of form and tone. Like contours of the earth, his stripes act like arteries which underlay the foundations of mankind, the romance of the horizon, land, earth and air, all assimilated within his composition. As the title of the painting suggests, Scully reduces representational elements to explore the very basis of that which comprises the earth we live upon, thus encouraging us to explore our place within the landscape and to reflect on all our experiences in relation to it.



signed, titled and dated 'Sean Scully '84 "DUST"' on the reverse
oil on canvas
160.2 x 137.8 cm (63 1/8 x 54 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1984.

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡♠

Sold for £471,000

Contact Specialist
Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4065

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 8 March 2019