Sean Scully: Wall of Light
Feb 12, 2006 - May 28, 2006

Sean Scully is one of the most admired painters working today. He works and exhibits throughout the world, with active studios in the United States, Spain, and Germany. Scully's Wall of Light series is his most important series to date.

Inspired by a trip to Mexico more than twenty years ago, the Wall of Light series builds from the artist’s memory of light and shadow playing on ancient Mayan ruins. Scully's exploration of surface texture and abstract forms in these works evokes a range of emotional and narrative themes. Featuring some forty paintings and a selection of pastels and watercolors, the exhibition allows for a fresh consideration of this important artist and an appreciation for his process of developing themes over many years.

Michael Auping, the Modern Art Museum's chief curator, who organized an early exhibition of the Wall of Light paintings in Mexico and South America in 2001, remarks, "The Wall of Light paintings are a remarkable group of works. Seen together, they do not appear 'abstract' in the normal sense of the term, but are very literal and visceral presences in which the artist has achieved a precise balance between emotion, color, weight, light, and touch. These are paintings that can be looked into and at for a long time."

Wall of Light consists of oil paintings, watercolors, pastels, and aquatints. The series, which Scully continues to expand, stems from watercolors that he made during 1983 and 1984 on trips to the Yucatán. While there, he became fascinated with how the surfaces of the Mayan stone walls, animated by light, seemed to reflect the passage of time. He describes the Maya as a "culture of walls and light." It was Scully's recollection of the spectacular light on those ancient walls in Mexico—so different from the fleeting, brooding light he grew up with in London—that most affected this new series. In 1998, after additional trips to Mexico and almost twenty years after his initial trip, he revisited his original watercolors and began the current series, which now consists of more than two hundred works, including the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth's Wall of Light Desert Night, 1999.

Sean Scully was born in postwar Dublin and raised in a working-class district of South London. At age fifteen, he apprenticed as a typesetter at a commercial printing shop and has retained a love of printmaking ever since. At age twenty, he decided to commit to his art—then predominantly figurative paintings—and enrolled at Croydon College of Art, later studying at Newcastle University. During his studies, he discovered the paintings of Mark Rothko and Bridget Riley and began working in abstraction. His technically flawless paintings from this period consist of complicated grid systems of intersecting bands and lines, pulsing with a richly dense optical field. On a visit to Morocco in 1969, he was deeply impressed by the stripes and colors of local fabrics as well as the intense southern light, and his work has retained these influences ever since.

Scully left England for the United States in 1972 to pursue a yearlong graduate fellowship at Harvard. He returned to the States in 1975 and settled in New York, where he began creating minimal, monochromatic paintings with seamless surfaces that made the painter's touch practically invisible. In the early 1980s, he began to alter this approach, reintroducing color, space, and brushstroke into his work and experimenting with composition and structure. By the mid-1980s, Scully had become internationally recognized. The Museum of Modern Art included his work in An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture (1984). The Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh organized the first major solo exhibition of his work in America in 1985, which traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Four years later, Scully also had a major solo exhibition in Europe, which originated at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, and traveled to Madrid and Munich.