Art in Focus: Landline Gray (2015) by Sean Scully
Sean Scully’s Landline paintings link minimalism to northern European romanticism
Detail from Landline Gray (2015) by Sean Scully (see full work below). Collection of the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, copyright the artist
How was it done?
It’s painted in a traditional medium, oil paint, but on aluminium rather than canvas or wood. Artists have long painted on metal, but it is still relatively unusual as a support. When Scully started painting on aluminium panel, he liked the fact that it was a faster, less yielding surface. It could be that he likes the resistance of the aluminium to the emotional charge of his painting. It is, he said, “unsentimental”, and plays against the implicit romanticism of his style, generating a useful, lively tension. While the horizontal bands of colour have an atmospheric tonality and point to landscape – land, sea and sky – they are to all intents and purposes abstract with, as he puts it, “a faint memory of minimalism” about them.
Where can I see it?
Landline Gray is on view in the Sean Scully room at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin. The artist gifted the painting to the Hugh Lane last year.
Landline Gray is the ninth painting Scully has given to the Hugh Lane, following on from a major donation of eight paintings in 2006. The significance of this latest donation is that it broadens the range of Scully’s work in the collection, as he did not begin to make Landline paintings until four or five years ago.
Is it a typical work by the artist?
It is typical. From the early 1980s (following a “breakthrough” painting, Backs and Fronts, in 1981) Scully developed what we think of as his signature style: painting blocks and bands of colour, usually in muted tones but also with passages of intense, bold colour. Several distinctive strands of work emerged over time, all still extant. He likes to work alternately on different series. There are what might be called the windows, paintings with inset, often contrasting panels, the Wall of Light paintings, brick-patterned compositions comprising blocks of colour, the related Doric series of austere, architectonic compositions and, from about 2013 or 2014, the Landlines. More recently, figuration has reappeared in his work. And sculpture has become another important area of interest. Scully is one of the leading abstract artists in the world today. His work has a global reach and is instantly recognisable. Although born in Dublin, he was brought up in London and moved to the United States in the mid-1970s. Mostly he is based in New York, but spends part of each year in Germany, where he also has a studio. His Irish origins remain important to him. At one point he related the Landline paintings to his experience of standing at the edge of the Aran islands, looking west, evoking the experience of generations of Irish emigrants.