Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1945, Sean Scully spent most of his childhood and adolescence in south London, where, before he was even ten years old, he knew he would devote his life to making art. Shortly after leaving school in the mid 1960s, he enrolled at Croydon College of Art, and it was here that he first encountered Abstract Expressionism and Op Art. Influenced by figures on both sides of the Atlantic, including Mark Rothko and Bridget Riley, Scully abandoned his early figurative work, and during his studies at Newcastle University in the late 1960s and early 1970s, began formulating his own abstract language, based on the grid. It was not until he moved to the United States in the mid 1970s, however, where he encountered minimalism, that he first broke free from the grid, and from what he has described as ‘the binding, horizontal and vertical’. It was at this time that he produced his first works that were composed entirely of horizontal bands and lines. Writing from Zurich in March 2006 about this significant epiphany in his nascent oeuvre, Scully reflects: ‘It’s habitual to think of abstraction as abstract. But it’s not, it’s a self-portrait. A portrait of personal conditions, one could say. I left London, and its stability, for New York, and its instability. Correspondingly, I dropped the vertical out of the paintings, along with my own “personal” architecture, so that I could travel along my own horizon’.
Now dividing his time between New York, Germany and Spain, Scully’s journey with the languages of abstraction has evolved into a veritable odyssey, the horizontals and horizons perhaps pursued most clearly today in Scully’s ongoing series ‘Landline’, which brings ideas of abstraction into dialogue with the landscape. Alongside several notable examples from this series, the exhibition also includes works from another major series, ‘Wall of Light’, which began in 1998 and brought together horizontal and vertical bars in part inspired by several trips by the artist to Mexico since the early 1980s, and the remarkable qualities of light he observed falling on ancient stone walls there. ‘Walls, especially old ones, are custodians of memory, witnesses to the passages of human beings, surfaces that bear the traces of history’, he has said.
With an emphasis on new and recent works, including some exhibited for the first time, the exhibition ‘Sean Scully: Standing on the Edge of the World’ features a number of pieces from the past thirty years, selected and arranged by curator Alfredo Cramerotti. The works range from large-scale paintings to small works on paper, accompanied by a number of photographic prints, which, as Cramerotti explores in his illuminating essay for this catalogue, reveal not only some of the complex dynamics at work in Scully’s practice as regards relationships of colour and form, but also encourage viewers to consider the notion of ‘edges’, and in particular the connections between edges in his paintings and those in architecture and in nature. With both the built environment and the natural world, through his paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptural works, Scully invites us to stand on the edges and to look back in through the prism of abstraction.
Curator: Alfredo Cramerotti
About the exhibition
Dates: 28/03/2018 – 29/04/2018
Venue: Hong Kong Arts Center
Programme information provided by: Timothy Taylor, London and New York, and Ben Brown Fine Arts, London and Hong Kong.
For further information please visit www.hkac.org.hk.