The Irish/American painter Sean Scully will be presenting Human: an exhibition of recent works and new, unseen pieces at the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice during the Venice Biennale, which opens in May.
The Benedictine monks resident at San Giorgio promote the dialogue between the church and contemporary artists, within the cultural activities of their non-profit programme, the Benedict Claustra.
“My work is an attempt to release the spirit” – Sean Scully
The celebrated abstract artist has created a series of new sculptures, paintings, drawings, and watercolour works directly inspired by the monks’ Abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore, their vast illuminated manuscript collections and the 16th-century Benedictine church. Scully’s instantly-recognisable visual vocabulary of horizontal and vertical stripes, which reflect fifty years of constant refining, will transform every corner of the High Renaissance church, designed four centuries ago by the legendary architect Andrea Palladio.
The soaring new sculpture, Opulent Ascension, will be situated directly beneath the church’s central dome. Constructed from stacked frames, each wrapped in rich and varying colours of felt, the sculpture will rise ten metres into the air like an elaborate Jacob’s ladder, leading the eye and spirit heavenwards through the Basilica’s dome. The tallest work ever created by the artist, Opulent Ascension embodies Scully’s conviction that his work can serve as a conduit between the physical world we can see and a transcendent one to which the soul aspires. “I want to make available the journey from the spiritual to the physical,” wrote Scully in 2009, “and from the physical to the spiritual.”
Scully’s response to this place of worship and contemplation includes a series of watercolour drawings displayed in the sacristy of San Giorgio inspired and informed by the extensive collection of illuminated medieval manuscripts housed at the Basilica, which Scully spent time studying and exploring. They feature the artist’s own writing, illustrated with extensive drawing and paintings.
In the large choir behind the altar, a vellum tome of watercolour drawings on hand-made paper, compiled by the artist for the exhibition, will be on display. The extraordinary book – a luminous testament to the artist’s devotion to the project – echoes the charm and power of illuminated manuscripts from a bygone era.
Throughout the abbey’s gardens and its adjoining buildings, visitors will discover an exhilarating array of works which resonate with the artist’s unique and inspiring vision: from painted triptychs and ‘soulscapes’ to a room devoted to the soft syllables of Scully’s exquisite pastels on paper.
Eight paintings from Scully’s acclaimed recent series Landline, will adorn the church’s long and narrow passageway manica lunga, taking visitors on an excursion deep within themselves. Particularly eye-catching within the context of numerous abstract works will be the three ground-breaking portraits from a new series entitled Madonna. This triptych is representative of an exciting recent impulse by Scully to return to figuration after having abandoned it five decades ago and is emblematic of what a landmark and transformative show this is.
Before exiting, visitors will encounter the radiant and rich triptych Arles-Abend-Vincent 2, whose panels pulse with twilight blues, Byzantine golds, deep reds, and lustrous blacks. On one level, the work’s title and bold palette allude to the searching soul of Vincent Van Gogh, whom Scully acknowledges as a key inspiration. On another level, the emulation of spiritual architecture of the triptych and its display within San Giorgio is transformative in its power. It is difficult not to see the painting – both singular and triplicate in its making – as echoing the mysterious calculus of the Holy Trinity.
Human coincides with several major exhibitions of the artist’s work across the world in 2019, including landmark shows in the Albertina Museum in Vienna, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut, USA, the National Gallery in London, and the LWL Museum in Münster.
The exhibition is curated by Javier Molins. A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the show.
Top Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2019
Human, Sean Scully in collaboration with Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore Abbey San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice 11 May – 13 October 2019