David J Markham
Painter, Arts Critic, Photographer
9:44 AM 4th October 2018
From A Boy To A Man. From A Man To A King
Moor Shadow Stack 2018 - Corten Steel
I’ve read many books about Irish born artist Sean Scully and seen many examples of his work at exhibitions and galleries around the world and here is what I’ve come to believe:
I believe that Sean Scully is a truly original thinker.
I believe that Sean Scully understands deeply about the practise of making art and its effect on a viewer.
I believe that Sean Scully empathises with the frailties and joy of the human condition.
I believe that Sean Scully is a romantic and I believe that Sean Scully is a maverick and makes work without fear or favour.
I don’t know him personally but for me and countless other people around the globe - Scully is on the A list of artists that have made a difference. There can be no finer accolade.
Last Friday I attended a talk at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park by Scully on the eve of the opening of his show Inside Outside
– his first UK Sculpture and Painting exhibition.
Blue Note 2016 - Oil and Acrylic Spray on Aluminium
There was a queue a mile long to attend the event and he was both insightful and entertaining in equal measure. He spoke for well over an hour about his life, his art and the forces that drive him to create his work. You could hear a pin drop. Dressed in jeans he talked completely off the cuff - accompanied by a small number of slides. He walked this attentive audience through signature pieces and shared insights of his life and work with ease. He had real presence.
Physically strong and confident in the self-analysis of his own thoughts he reflected on family life as a boy in London. As a teenager he ran with London street gangs. Music – whether it be rock and roll, punk or free jazz - has always informed the rhythm of his work. He is interested in boxing and how this too unreservedly represents a form of noble art. He became a man and discovered that art was his calling.
Interestingly he noted that the British don’t get abstract art. It reminded me of Joe Strummer who once said that everywhere in the world understood The Clash except England. There are interesting parallels. So I promised myself I would review the show for The Yorkshire Times in the coming weeks. How could I resist?
Landline Rain 2018 - Oil on Aluminium
I turned up on Sunday of the same weekend – camera and notebook in hand like an attentive schoolboy at the feet of the master. Here are my thoughts:-
I arrived at the fabulous Longside Gallery, within the grounds of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, at 10am. Only one problem with this – it opened at 11am! So I hung around and marvelled at the Yorkshire landscape before me. It was a grey nondescript day on Sunday but when the evening sun shone on the green fields below the gallery on Friday evening and the shadows lengthened - there could surely be few locations in the country that could rival this view.
When the caretaker arrived to open up – I was in like a shot. The Longside Gallery – with its vaulted ceiling is a perfect contemporary art venue. It has the feel of a nuclear fallout shelter and while this may not sound appealing – take my word – they knew what they were doing when they built this structure. When alone – the atmosphere is almost cathedral like. Quiet. The sound of space.
The building is split into two rooms. The main room housed 9 paintings and 4 sculptures. The annexed room featured small drawings, prints and photographs. It was a perfect way to show Scully’s breadth of work and use of mediums.
Sean Scully Inside Outside Exhibition - Yorkshire Sculpture Park
The paintings were predominantly executed - oil on aluminium. The oil paint glides across this flat and even surface to produce a consistent and creamy finish. The paintings fall under the umbrella of his Landline series. Paintings that respond to the horizon reduced to their purest form with no vertical axis. They all feature bands of pigment of varying widths to achieve a consistent yet markedly different set of results. Stand out paintings for me were “Landline Oisin Green” 2016, “Landline Rain” 2018 and “Landline Dale” 2018 but if I’m honest all 9 paintings rubbed along together in an undeniably cohesive fashion. “Blue Note” 2016 hangs opposite the long window in glorious isolation. An epic piece that twists and turns through vibrant colours and shapes.
The sculptures exhibited in the main room were each completely different -adopting a variety of materials – from wood through to corten steel. It displayed a new side to this artist I had not seen before.
10 Sean Scully prints
In the small room there are some lovely drawings and monochrome photographs. So simple yet so beautiful. They looked pure and innocent. A block of 10 characteristic colour soaked prints served as a contrast to the line work so clearly defined in the drawings. Once again – so typically Sean Scully. There was also a nod to the manor where he now finds himself - “Made in Sheffield” – a beautiful watercolour - dressed with blocks of black lines.
Landline Oisin Green 2016 - Oil on Aluminium
People started to walk quietly into the gallery and it was time for me to leave – it had been a rare privilege to be in this space alone for a small amount of time. Scully’s work is meditative. The quiet of the gallery seemed to amplify the meditation.
When people view a Rembrandt self-portrait they marvel. The light, the detail, the colours. Why when I see a Scully do I feel the same? They are evidently not the same. They were painted in a different age. The starting point is oil paint and that’s where the practical comparison starts and ends. One artist dazzles with his deft touch and the other artist uses bold bands to express his emotions and thoughts. Scully has the advantage over Rembrandt, of course, that during our age - an understanding has evolved that painting exists not only in a physical sense on the wall but is burnished forever in the viewers mind. A mark remains.
All this is on your doorstep folks and what’s more – it’s free. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Take your children. Take your grandchildren. Let them say they were there when Sean Scully came to town. The talk was filmed – I hope in the not too far distant future it will see the light of day.
This is what I believe.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park – Longside Gallery
29th September 2018 – 6th January 2019
All photos by the author