REVIEW: Sean Scully New Work, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

28 May – 3 July 2010

There’s an enormous sense of integrity to Sean’s Scully’s work. Certainly his unwavering, at times unfashionable, commitment to abstraction, particularly in the face of the ‘shock and awe’ styles of contemporary art we have become accustomed to contributes to this sense but there is also a visual integrity – in his palette and his painterly application – and the resulting encounter is overwhelmingly contemplative, beautiful and satisfying. Which is no small feat for a series of canvases ostensibly covered in large rectangles of colour.


There are only thirteen works on display in this exhibition of new work at Timothy Taylor Gallery but such is their scale, and their depth, that the experience is far from short-changing. The works are mostly new additions to Scully’s Wall of Light series and the earthy, luminous colours that were inspired by the artist’s visit to Mexico in the early 1980s are infused with a warm sense of energy that makes standing in front of them a meditative experience. The beauty of Scully’s technique – applying paint, scraping it back, re-applying it and layering in different colours means that these blocks of colour are never exactly executed and their gestural, unpolished edges allow subtle peeks of colour to seep through – a navy is offset by a blush pink, a grey blue reveals a sunflower yellow. The aesthetic effect is of a visual depth and complexity within the work but beyond that, there is also the suggestion of a conscientious artistic practice.


Scully’s work resonates with a subtle but gently invigorating energy that stems in large part from a scrutiny of the canvas. There is both effort and restraint in Scully’s work – a methodology of application and image construction that is evident in the gestural brushstrokes and yet, despite this very human presence on the canvas, there is also a spiritual, emotional quality akin to the best of Mark Rothko’s own canvases of rectangular colour blocks, where the paintings seems to breathe and perhaps threaten to evanesce. Scully’s works feel more grounded than Rothko’s in this sense, defined by its textural quality and scale, but that spiritual sense of encounter is very much alive here. In fact, viewing Scully’s work might best be understood as a sort of religious experience – not in the sense of great revelation or a chorus of hallelujah – rather, in that sense of dedication, passion and faith, and an understanding of religion as a search for beauty and grace. It is surprisingly affective and the large airy space of Timothy Taylor Gallery lends itself well to the scale and emotion of Scully’s work. Overwhelmingly this viewing experience is an edifying one, both visually and emotionally and it is well worth encountering.