Sean Scully's works at the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Caen


Last summer, the musée des Beaux-Arts of Caen exhibited about a hundred engraved prints by Sean Scully ; this exhibition was the result of a collaboration between four  museums (Wien, Gravelines and Wuppertal) and the Lelong gallery.
At the preview on the 1st of July, I was pleased and lucky to talk with the artist and to ask him some questions ; he answered with kindness.
Here is what he said about his artistic path and his works. I have tried to keep his own words between quotes...

Sean Scully by himself
When he began to paint, he used a figurative style, with a preference for characters and objects. He was especially interested in the expressivity of painting, and at that time he was "influenced by Matisse, Van Gogh and German expressionnists".
But after his studies, he was inpressed by Mondrian's and Rothko's works, so he decided to turn to abstraction, because he found it "more interesting in terms of rhythm". At that time, his works could be classified as op'art.
However, his concern for expressivity was not satisfied by this over-smooth style, and he came to the conclusion that this way of painting remained "too abstract and not expressive enough". Then he asked himself the following question : "How can I merge Mondrian's rhythm and Matisse's expression ?" ; he resolved this dilemma by choosing the path he has been following for about ten years, which consists in painting geometrical patterns without erasing the artist's gesture nor the artefacts of the medium, or, as he says himself : "to paint abstract objects as if they were characters". By doing this, he stands "half-way between Baselitz' expressionnism and geometrical or conceptual abstraction".
Actually his works are often inspired by what he discovers or photographs on the walls of cities ; in his photographs he follows Brassaï's example, as he adores this photographer's pictures of parisian walls .
He feels "very close to European painters", and rejects Stella's influence under which American critics often place him ; he definitely prefers to come in the wake of painters such as François Morellet, Bridget Riley and Jesus Rafael Soto. In the same way,while he finds Sol Lewitt "too structural", and Robert Ryman "interesting, but formalist and abstract", he prefers to look carefully at Edouard Manet's paintings.
Sean Scully tries to give to abstraction the kinds of association and nuances that have previously only been found in figurative art. All his colors are complex and taken from memories of the natural world and then used to humanize the urban grid. His edges are informed by mystery.

My opinion, my impressions
I am very keen on geometrical abstraction, so of course I like what Sean Scully does very much ; his works are very restful, never provocative nor extreme. In them you can find a formal perfection which is never monotonous because of the infinite diversity of patterns which compose the pictures, and a sensuality in the strokes and the colors that have given expression to all the creator's emotion.
Sean Scully has a "craftsman" side ; he reminds me of a "Compagnon du Tour de France" : he uses traditional techniques (this is so rare...), gives pre-eminence to a strict form, and only after that does he let his fantasy delicately express itself inside the limits he has carefully set up. The "series" clearly show this manner : they are not surveys like those by Sol Lewitt, but a true selection of objects that all have a personnality.
With this care for details, Sean Scully's art tells us that every square of a chessboard has its own history, or every brick of a wall its own wounds. On simple surfaces, some more or less visible marks lie there as scars and attest the old life of the object. The colors are not those of a bright springtime (there is almost no green), but they remind us of the patina of old walls : black, grey, off-white, pastel blue, ochre and above all brick red.
Thus a sweet gloom is radiated by Sean Scully's works, the gloom of Time that flies above every thing ; the structure still remains unchanged, but the colors are less bright than at birth, the materials have the sensuality of the things that have been polished by use ; Sean Scully's objects have already had a well-filled life. And as Time has begun its work on these objects, isn't it a way of reminding us that it is also working on beings ? Thus Sean Scully seems to come close to the masters of still life (especially from 17th and 18th centuries) when it was important to symbolize through some details (faded flowers, etc...) the inescapable wear given by Time and the great cyclic movement of the World.


Sean Scully and Jean-Pierre Viallaneix, deputy mayor of Caen in charge of patrimony,
in front of a monumental painting by the artist.