Sean Scully

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sean Scully, 2020

Sean Scully (born June 30, 1945 in Dublin , Ireland) is an Irish painter who grew up in Great Britain from the age of four and became an American citizen in 1983. Today he lives and works in Königsdorf in Upper Bavaria, Berlin , Barcelona and New York .


Childhood and youth

In 1949 the Scully family moved from Dublin to London for economic reasons . There the young Sean Scully grew up in a working-class neighborhood in South London and attended the local convent school. He was deeply impressed by the paintings in the Catholic churches of the neighborhood, so that he decided to become a painter for the first time at the age of 9. The way there was not always easy, however. In his teens, his main interest shifted to American rhythm and blues music, and he briefly ran his own music club.

From 1960 to 1962 he trained as a printer and worked in a graphic design studio. He took evening classes at the Central School of Art in London for three years, devoting himself mainly to figurative painting . In 1964 he saw a painting of a chair by Vincent van Gogh in London's Tate Gallery , whose expression of deep sincerity touched him and reinforced his resolve to become a painter.

Soon after, in 1965, he began studying at Croydon College of Art in London. There he was initially interested in Van Gogh, Emil Nolde , Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Henri Matisse , until he discovered abstract expressionism and Mark Rothko . This represented a turning point in his early work. From then on he left the field of figurative painting and made abstract works. These mostly consist of intersecting lines and ribbons of color that result in a complicated grid system. The influence of Op Art cannot be overlooked in this phase.

The 1970s and 1980s

In 1968 Sean Scully went to Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of England, where he studied art at Newcastle University until 1972 . There he was one of the few students who even dealt with painting, because conceptual art and new media were booming at that time. But he remained true to painting. When he was able to go to the USA for a year in 1972 with the help of the John Knox Scholarship, he began to experiment with new painting techniques and to use adhesive tape, so that precise and hard edges emerge at the edges of the color strips, which, however, give the pictures any expressiveness to take. This type of painting is also known as hard-edge painting .

After returning to England in 1973, he had his first solo exhibition at London's Rowan Gallery, which sold out. He stayed in England for two years. In 1975 he received the Harkness Fellowship and moved to New York. There he lived with the painter Catherine Lee, whom he married in 1978.

New York: The street canyons, which consist of crossing horizontal and vertical "lines", the industrial buildings and the light there - all of this had a great influence on the painter; likewise the predominant art form of minimalism in the United States at the time and his friendship with Robert Ryman .

Sean Scully had his first solo exhibition in New York in 1977 at the Duffy-Gibbs Gallery. In the years that followed, mostly gray or black, almost monochrome works were created, the composition of which is strict and reduced. This phase of the “Black Paintings” lasted about five years, until color and space gradually returned to the pictures. Sean Scully felt he had to fill minimalism with expressiveness. He kept his strict composition, but stopped using tape, so that the edges of the color strips appear softer and livelier. The brushwork becomes visible on the surface of the picture. By placing several layers of color on top of one another, a rich, translucent color that changes in its nuances is created. He brought his new way of painting to full maturity in the painting Heart of Darkness , which now hangs in the Chicago Art Institute .

In 1983 he became an American citizen, but did not lose his Irish citizenship. Around the same time, his 18-year-old son Paul, from Scully's first marriage, was killed in a car accident.

1984 to 1989 can be described as the years of the international breakthrough. In 1985 he had his first US solo exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. Subsequently, large museums acquired pictures of Sean Scully. In 1989 the first solo exhibition followed in a European museum, in the Whitechapel Art Gallery , London, which was then shown in Madrid in the Palacio Velazquez and in the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich.

The 1990s

In 1990 photographs of Sean Scully were published for the first time. In 1994 he set up a studio in Barcelona. In 1995 the series of Floating Paintings was created . These are three-dimensional paintings on aluminum blocks, which are painted on three sides with vertical strips of color and which are attached to the wall with only one narrow side. The objects stand out from the wall at a right angle and protrude into the room. In 1997 photographs by Sean Scully were exhibited in the Sala de Exposiciones Rekalde in Bilbao. In 1999 he set up a new studio in the Chelsea district of New York .


In 2000, Sean Scully became an honorary member of the London Institute of Arts and Letters . In 2001 the Haus der Kunst in Munich showed a retrospective , in the same year he became a member of Aosdána , an Irish artists' association that deals with literature, music and the visual arts. From 2002 to 2007 he held a chair at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and set up a studio in Mooseurach near Königsdorf . In 2003 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in the visual arts from the Massachusetts College of Art in the USA.

In the same year he divorced his second wife Catherine Lee and married the painter Liliane Tomasko.

In 2005 Sean Scully got his own room in the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. In 2004/05 he made a work for the University of Limerick , Ireland, a 3.00 m high, 2.50 m wide and 30.5 m long wall. It consists of white and black stone blocks arranged in a checkerboard pattern. The white stone is Portuguese limestone, the black Chinese basalt. The sculpture is at the main entrance to the university campus. In 2006 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York showed a retrospective of the work of Sean Scully. In 2010 the documentary Art comes from need by Hans A. Guttner about Scully was premiered in Santa Rosa . Scully had previously been the subject of television and short documentaries.


In March 2016, Scully received the Harper's Bazaar Art International Artist of the Year Award . Since 2016 he has had a studio in the Berlin district of Reinickendorf , which was opened to the public as part of the Berlin Gallery Weekend 2017.

Sean Scully's way of working

Sean Scully, 2015

When you stand in front of a painting by Sean Scully, you first see a clear picture structure, which consists of various combinations of vertical and horizontal color strips or square color fields. In some works there is also an "inset", i. H. a canvas that was individually painted and subsequently inserted into the larger canvas in order to break with its basic structure or to enter into communication. A good example of this is the “Passenger” series that emerged in the late 1990s. The earlier works were also often composed of several individually worked canvases of various sizes and depths. The result was a very massive and almost object-like pictorial character. The "Floating Paintings" that were created in 1995 and 1996 have a similar effect. These are massive aluminum picture carriers that are between 0.5 cm and 24.5 cm deep and are attached to the wall with only one narrow side, the other three visible sides are painted. Color plays a very important role in Scully's work as it provides most of the emotionality and high intensity with which the painter charges his paintings. Often dark colors and earth tones predominate, which give the pictures a touch of melancholy and tragedy. Sean Scully says in an interview with Hans-Michael Herzog:

“I think there is a lot of melancholy in my pictures. A feeling of loss […] the light in my pictures has a certain melancholy quality, there is a certain sadness in this light. "

The image surface is also very important. By layering paint layer after paint layer with a clearly visible brush stroke, without using adhesive tape, the surface gets a haptic quality, the edges of the individual colored areas are soft and give an idea of ​​the lower layers of paint. The viewer can clearly see the physical effort of the painter and the process of creation. Through this combination of the rigid basic structure of the picture structure and emotional, gesture-related, physical elaboration, Sean Scully succeeds in combining painterly tradition from Europe with aesthetic experiences that have their origins in America, especially in New York.

In an interview with Juliana Monachesi in the Folha de São Paulo , Sean Scully comments on this topic:

“After minimalism, I wanted to give abstract painting back the emotional and spiritual power that it lost during the“ cool ”decade of minimalism. So at the beginning of the 80s I began to reintroduce forms and references that were competing with one another and that were carefully painted. "

In addition to the oil paintings, there is also a large number of etchings, lithographs, pastels and watercolors. These, above all the pastels and watercolors, have a more delicate, intimate character due to the smaller format and the medium of paper and appear more vulnerable than the large works on canvas, which can easily dominate a large room. The watercolor Untitled 9.9.92 from 1992 has z. B. only the format 45.7 × 38 cm.

other projects

In 2004/2005 Sean Scully made a sculpture for the University of Limerick , Ireland. The 30 m long wall is 3 m high and 2.50 m wide and consists of stone blocks arranged in a chessboard pattern. The white stones are Portuguese limestone, the black Chinese basalt. The sculpture is right on the main aisle to the campus.

In 2006, Sean Scully published a book entitled Resistance and Persistance: Selected Writings .

Sean Scully's teaching activities

In 1973, soon after the John Knox Fellowship ended and his return from the United States, Sean Scully began teaching at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and the Goldsmith College of Art and Design , London. From 1977 to 1983 he taught at Princeton University , New Jersey, USA, after moving there in 1975 because of the Harkness Scholarship. 1981 to 1984 he had a teaching position at the Parsons School of Arts , New York. In 1992, Sean Scully was invited to teach at Harvard University . In 1995 he took part in a lecture project at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University, England, entitled "The Joseph Beuys Lectures", which dealt with the state of contemporary art in Great Britain, Europe and the United States. From 2002 to 2007 he was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich .

Sean Scully at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich

When Verena Richter von der Welt am Sonntag asked Sean Scully why he accepted a professorship in Munich, he replied in May 2002:

"For two reasons. First, I want to do something special here. Because it is a very important historical moment. The development of painting is in question because the relationship between technological art forms and those art forms in which you create things with your hands is tense. I also have a special relationship with Munich, with Germany in general. Here my art is - let's say - understood. And Munich is a kind of cradle of spirituality. A place where a spiritual center can be founded, as was the case with Klee and Kandinsky at the time. I'm on a mission, there is real, deep intent behind it. "

In fact, Sean Scully had a connection with Munich since the early 1980s. At that time Armin Second showed his work in the Lenbachhaus . After that, all the major Munich exhibition centers invited him to show works. Finally, in 2001, Haus der Kunst devoted a comprehensive retrospective to his work from the 1990s , and Jürgen Habermas wrote an essay on Scully's work entitled A Modernism That Has Become a Tradition - Glosses and Associations . A year later, Ben Willikens , then director of the art academy, brought Sean Scully, whom he had known from his earlier time in Munich, to Munich. The number of his students in his first class started at 18, and by the end of his apprenticeship there were 52.

When asked by Christoph Wiedemann from Süddeutsche Zeitung how he wants to prepare his students for the tough job of a freelance artist, Sean Scully said in an interview in July 2002:

“The first thing I teach you: You have to learn to see connections. Current trends are the slackers of tomorrow. It's about learning to properly assess your own possibilities and developing a feeling for the right time. That means, you have to understand your craft, know the history of art and know where you want to be in life. You have to understand the system. Talent alone is not enough. Take a look at early work by van Gogh or Cezanne : It's all trash! The decisive factor is: you persevered. "

During the semester and afterwards there were weeks of intensive picture discussions with his students, with excursions on art history and art philosophy. There were school trips to Dresden, Barcelona and Madrid, Ireland and New York. In New York, the students were invited to his exhibition opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art , where a retrospective was dedicated to him in November 2006.

Even while he was a professor, Sean Scully initiated exhibition projects for his students in order to introduce them to professional work. For example, there was an exchange project with the Dresden Art Academy, where works by students from both academies were shown at different locations. In cooperation with the Kunstverein Aichach , a group exhibition entitled Go Between was organized, which was also shown in various institutions across Europe and thematized a field of painting that moves between abstraction and figuration. A catalog with the title Go Between has been published for this project . In 2007 Sean Scully completed his teaching activities at the Munich Art Academy with a large diploma exhibition of his last year students in the White Box in Munich. A catalog entitled Class Scully has also been published for this exhibition . Even after he has finished teaching, Sean Scully is in contact with his former students.

Sean Scully - Retrospective at Lentos (2012)

Solo exhibitions (selection)

Works in public collections


  • Maria Müller: Sean Scully , in: Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf (Hrsg.): Insights. The 20th century in the North Rhine-Westphalia Art Collection, Düsseldorf. Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit 2000; ISBN 3-7757-0853-7 , pp. 692-694
  • Sean Scully. With contributions by Matthias Frehner , Annick Haldemann and Brigitte Reutner, JOVIS Verlag Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-86859-183-5 .

Individual evidence

  1. © Jan Stradtmann / OSTKREUZ: The artist Sean Scully in his studio in Mooseurach near Koenigsberg near Munich, August 2008. Accessed October 22, 2019 .
  2. art comes from need. At:
  3. Sean Scully. At:
  4. Artist's website: Sean Scully Gets Harper's Bazaar Art International Artist of the Year , accessed May 1, 2017
  5. Scully opens new studio in BZ on September 11, 2016, accessed on May 1, 2017
  6. ^ Raue rides to Sean Scully in BZ on September 11, 2016, accessed on May 1, 2017
  7. Gallery Weekend website : Where to go?  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , accessed on May 1, 2017@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  8. Irene Netta, Ursula Keltz: 75 years of the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau Munich . Ed .: Helmut Friedel. Self-published by the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-88645-157-7 , p. 221 .
  9. Sean Scully - HUMAN - Venice - Home. Retrieved June 19, 2019 .

Web links

Commons : Sean Scully  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files