Sean Scully - 20th Century to Now London Friday, June 30, 2023 | Phillips
  • “I’m always trying to combine morality, which I see manifested in structure, with high emotion, manifested in beauty.”
    —Sean Scully

    Playing confidently with light, structure, colour, and material, Sean Scully’s Wall Yellow Pale is an intimately scaled work from Scully’s celebrated Wall of Light Series. Painted directly onto copper, Scully’s characteristic bricks of fluid colour take on new sensorial dimensions, creating subtle shifts in tone as the paint responds to the reflective metal ground. The first of Scully’s oil on copper works to be presented at auction, Wall Yellow Pale was executed in 2016 – the same year that the artist began to experiment with metal grounds and the very different ways in which these materials responded to paint. At once solid and mutable, the rhythmic tessellations of coloured blocks in contrasting hues of greens, blues, reds, and golden yellows here creates an intense emotional resonance, the deceptive simplicity of its composition foregrounding relationships between light, colour, and form and rendering the composition at once solid and highly mutable.


    Turning to copper, Scully placed himself in direct dialogue with a long line of European painters including Flemish masters such as Jan Breughel the Elder, El Greco, and Rembrandt who all favoured the material for its luminous qualities and smooth surface which proved especially responsive to finely detailed brushwork. More recently, artists such as Lucien Freud and Anselm Kiefer have experimented with copper’s unique qualities, while Günther Förg’s evocative lead and copper paintings provide an important contemporary touchstone with regards to the material’s emotive power in more non-figurative modes. Recalling both the modernist grid exemplified by Piet Mondrian and the sensitivity to the emotional impact of colour explored by Mark Rothko in his meditative canvases, Scully draws on both the traditions of European modernism and American post-war abstraction. Hypnotically rhythmic, Scully’s interlocking squares possess a remarkable vitality that is intensified on copper, his thinned paints applied with such forceful expressivity that the fluid blocks of colour merge and bleed into one another.

    “I found myself in the fortunate position of being a European painter in New York with an understanding of the American vernacular. So I was able to paint these kind of shapes, these simple shapes that obviously relate to Minimalism, but with emotion and with the knowledge of European painting embedded in them.”
    —Sean Scully

    The intense luminosity of the material also lends itself naturally to the artist’s Wall of Light series, which - inspired by the monumentality and frank, unrefined nature of the stone surfaces of ancient Mayan structures that Scully first encountered in Mexico in the early 1980s – continues to draw on his memories of the play of light and shadow across these surfaces. As oil paint does not sink into the reflective surface of copper as it does on other supports, even thinly applied layers are endowed with an especially vibrant and intense quality, the slippery surface especially responsive to every movement of the artist’s hand allowing the brush to move freer and faster. Such qualities are well-suited to his painterly preoccupations in the close laid bricks of fluidly painted colour that make up the Wall of Light series where, as the artist has described, ‘the way I’m painting directly affects the weight of the paint and thus the colour. 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.’i


    Sean Scully | On the Line with Kelly Grovier, Sean Scully Studio


    Suffused with a warm, diffused light and demonstrating Scully’s remarkable sensitivity to natural and architectural forms, Wall Yellow Pale exemplifies the raw emotional power and storytelling capacity of the Wall of Light series. At once monumentally physical and abstract, Wall Pale Yellow typifies Scully’s ability to succinctly capture a sense of place while conveying emotion through colour, light, and solidity. Born in 1945 and working across a wide range of media, Scully is widely recognised as one of the most important artists of his generation, with works held by some of the most prestigious institutional collections across the world. As well as the current major solo exhibition at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, England, the artist has been the focus of several significant retrospectives including the 2022 Sean Scully: The Shape of Ideas at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Sean Scully: Passenger – a Retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery which opened in 2021; and the critically acclaimed 2019 exhibition Human presented alongside the 2019 La Biennale di Venezia. Amongst the most iconic of his oeuvre, works from this series were presented in the definitive Sean Scully: Wall of Light at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2006-2007. In 2014, Scully became the first Western artist to have a large-scale retrospective in China.



    i Sean Scully, quoted in Kevin Power, ‘Questions for Sean Scully’, April 2003, online

    • Provenance

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

    • Exhibited

      Guangzhou, Holly's Gallery, Kerlin Gallery, Park, 20 - 25 March 2017


Wall Yellow Pale

signed, titled and dated 'WALL YELLOW PALE Sean Scully 2016 Sean Scully' on the reverse
oil on copper
70.3 x 85.3 cm (27 5/8 x 33 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

£250,000 - 350,000 ‡♠

Sold for £304,800

Contact Specialist

Leonor de Osma
Head of Sale, 20th Century to Now
T +44 20 7901 7912
M +44 7584 086 052

20th Century to Now

London Auction 30 June 2023