MAMM Moscow: Sean Scully has been a driving force in Abstract painting since the 1980s. He has stuck to his guns and can be name-checked alongside a handful of innovators such as Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer. In fact, his work holds a privileged position where it is widely recognised on a global scale and highly influential to a younger generation of painters.
“Sean Scully’s art is cartographic; It maps the soul” – Kelly Grovier
Sean paints directly from the heart. He possesses the ability to convey emotion and candour in his work. His use of colour can be almost scientific in the way it is arranged to build his structures or walls of form. The walls are often painterly with applied layers masking sublayers, glued together with dark and light reflections or illuminate bricks and mortar. Quite regularly Sean fills the role of architect painting a sublime world of visually inhabitable construction.
Scully’s latest exhibition ‘Facing East’ has just opened in Moscow where it has been thoughtfully curated by Olga Sviblova who earned her reputation as one of the most influential figures in the Russian art world. Olga is passionate about art; her enthusiasm is infectious. In 1996, she founded the Moscow House of Photography, which later became the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow where the exhibition has been mounted. This significant show displays over thirty paintings, watercolours, mixed-media compositions, and pastels.
The surface simplicity of Scully’s work allows enormous scope for interpretation but digging deeper – it is a mode of construction – evoking anything from the visuality of a flag to the division of fields in his birth country of Ireland. There is a noted influence of Nietzsche, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett in his work. He is also inspired by music especially the Jazz of Miles Davis.
There is also an evident Russian Constructivist influence, and Scully has expressed his love of Malevich, hence the hanging of the painting ‘Passenger Red-White’, 1999 which pays homage to Malevich’s Black Square, 1915, in the height of its hanging. (Top photo upper right)
Backs and Fronts is the centrepiece painting as you enter the wide lobby of the MAMM. It was painted in 1981 and began life as a reference to Picasso’s three musicians (MoMa). Other musicians were added, and it transformed into standing figures or buildings looking like standing figures, the powerful effect of his urban life in New York.
12 Triptychs 2008 are a series that can be found on the stairs as you climb to the first floor of the museum. The paintings stretch from colourful to near monochrome. Again they work in series or individually. Sean’s ability to masterfully execute spaces that draw you into his world is comparable to a near-religious experience. Scully is a modern-day iconographer, a term that I do not attribute without conviction.
The vast space upstairs is sparse with a range of works including ‘Four Days.’ 2015 and a series of three square paintings titled Arles- Abend Vincent 2015 a homage to the great Post Impressionist.
Other works are illustrated in the beautiful catalogue such as his critically acclaimed Landline series 2013/2014 which reference landscape, while he has recently reexamined figurative painting with the 2017 piece Eleuthra referring to both a single island in the archipelagic state of The Commonwealth of the Bahamas and his young son Oisin playing in the sand. The work reminds me of Milton Avery and has overtones of Matisse with large swathes of colour and a central figure placed in a spiral.
Sean Scully was born in Dublin in 1945, was brought up in London and emigrated to the States in 1975. He currently lives and works in New York and outside Munich. He studied painting at the Croydon College of Art (London) and Newcastle University (England), received a Graduate Fellowship from Harvard University in 1973, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1983, and Honorary Degrees, Doctorate of Fine Arts from The Massachusetts College of Art (Boston) and the National University of Ireland (Dublin). He has been nominated for the Turner Prize twice.
If you are in the Moscow area do not miss this must see ***** Star exhibition
Words/Photos Paul Carter Robinson © Artlyst 2017
SEAN SCULLY ‘FACING EAST’ MAMM Moscow, 3.XI—10.XII.2017
State Russian Museum, St Petersburg: 15 February – 9 April 2018
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