Sean Scully: Passages/Impressions/Surfaces
Sean Scully. Harris and Lewis Shacks [from a portfolio of twelve].
“I am not fighting for abstraction. Those battles have already been fought. I’m using those victories to make an abstraction that is, in fact, more relaxed, more open, and more confident … I am trying to make something that is more expressive and that relates to the world in which we live. In that sense my abstraction is quite figurative. It is not very remote.
- Sean Scully, Journal of Contemporary Art (in conversation with R. Eric Davis) 1999
The Henry is pleased to present a focused exhibition of works by the celebrated British artist Sean Scully (born 1945). The presentation pairs the artist’s photographic Harris and Lewis Shacks portfolio, from the museum’s permanent collection, with October, a large scale oil painting from the same period, to examine and expose the rich dialogue between the two mediums in the artist’s oeuvre.
Since the early 1970s, Sean Scully has consistently favored abstraction, focusing on the recurring subject of the stripe in both his paintings and drawings. The artist has often drawn inspiration from unnoticed architectural and incidental urban fragments that he then isolates to create works that maintain a tenuous but organic relationship between reality and non-figurative representation.
In his search for images and inspiration, photography has played a key role, allowing the artist to record in his extensive travels facades, doorways, windows, and close-ups of unremarkable buildings. The Harris and Lewis Shacks portfolio, photographed in 1990 in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, is a series of twelve close-ups of the worn and haphazardly constructed surfaces of dwellings on the islands of Harris and Lewis. The isolated architectural elements of the shacks are tightly framed by the lens and captured in a deadpan manner that makes them appear as deliberately flattened details rather than full-scale structures. The artist does this not only to accentuate the disembodied bands of color – stripes, squares, and rectangles – on the facades of these handmade modest, aging buildings, but also to highlight the variations in surface, color, and the individual compositional choices made in each structure.
October, dating from the same period as the Harris and Lewis Shacks portfolio, is representative of how the artist draws inspiration from the real to create autonomous works that attempt to express emotion and human history. Showing these works together highlights the oblique, but ultimately productive dialogue between the found and the made in Scully’s work.