Sean Scully



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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Sean Scully born 1945
Aquatint on paper
Image: 377 x 405 mm
support: 575 x 710 mm
Presented by the artist 2005


Coyote 2003 is a small print on paper comprising an abstract composition of black, white, grey and yellow rectangles. These shapes have rounded corners and uneven edges and appear to be arranged in a haphazard manner, with no easily discernible logic governing their organisation. However, some of the rectangles seem loosely grouped or positioned in formations resembling rows and columns. The white and yellow forms are much brighter than the other shapes, appearing soft and diffuse in tone, although a darker background is visible underneath them. The black and grey rectangles have a much more solid appearance, but in some areas they also look semi-transparent and seem to consist of multiple shapes layered on top of each other. The image is positioned at the centre of a sheet of paper and a white border surrounds it on all sides.

This print was produced by the artist Sean Scully in 2000. Scully was born in Dublin but grew up in London and settled in America in 1975, and at the time that Coyote was created Scully was working between studios in New York, Barcelona and Munich. Although the work bears the publisher’s stamp ‘Barnet Editions’, details regarding this printmaker and its location are unknown. Scully made the work using an intaglio printmaking technique called aquatint, which is a variant of the etching process and involves applying a powder (also named aquatint) to a metal plate and covering it with varnish. Grooves are then cut into the plate and it is immersed in acid, which corrodes the exposed areas. Next the artist pours ink onto the plate and then wipes it, leaving the ink in the incised grooves. Finally, the plate is passed through a printing press with a sheet of paper and the ink is transferred from the grooves and onto the paper, forming an image.

Scully made Coyote with two separate plates, each of which used a different version of the aquatint technique. One was made using spitbite aquatint, a method in which acid is applied unevenly to the surface of the plate so that the acid ‘bites’ into it with varying depth, lending the resulting print a diffuse appearance. The other plate was produced using sugar lift aquatint, which involves covering the plate with a sugar solution and then applying aquatint to the rest of its surface, before burning into it with the acid. This allows the artist to produce a positive image, since the acid cuts into the sections that have been painted with sugar solution. The much softer appearance of the yellow and white shapes suggests that they were produced using the spitbite aquatint process, while the more solid grey and black shapes are likely to have been made using the sugar lift aquatint technique. Scully’s use of two different types of aquatint plate may partly explain the superimposed shapes that feature in Coyote, although it may be that this effect was the result of the images on each plate being printed onto the paper several times. This work is related to an oil painting, also entitled Coyote, which was made in 2000 (Tate T11782).

Although Scully has not explained the title of these two works, their colours resemble the grey, tan and black tones of a coyote’s fur, and this may have been influenced by the artist’s travels in Mexico, where coyotes are abundant. This print and the oil painting of the same name are among several works from 1999 and the early 2000s that Scully produced after rediscovering a watercolour study that he had executed in Mexico in 1984. The watercolour was composed of rectangles in horizontal and vertical positions and Scully adopted this format again for Coyote as well as the oil painting Wall of Light Desert Day 2003 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra). He stated in 2000 that this type of composition was initially inspired by the Mexican ruins he saw during his 1984 trip, especially the ‘stacking of stones, and the way light hits those facades’ (Scully in Sean Scully: Wall of Light, exhibition catalogue, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. 2005, p.24).

The use of colour in this print is very different from that in Coyote 2000: while the painting was executed with loose, gestural brushstrokes, this work presents diffuse areas of ink in more uniform blocks. The curator Anne L. Strauss has argued that in his work Scully allows the unique characteristics and effects of whichever medium he employs to affect his working techniques, rather than adapting the materials to his preconceived ideas. Consequently his works that make use of different media and techniques are always highly distinct from one another even when they are formally similar, as can be seen when comparing Coyote 2000 and Coyote 2003 (Anne L. Strauss, ‘Compliments and Antidotes: Works on Paper’, in Centro de Arté Hélio Oiticica 2002, p.111).

Further reading
Sean Scully: Wall of Light, exhibition catalogue, Centro de Arté Hélio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro 2002.
Sean Scully: Body of Light, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2004.
Sean Scully: Paintings and Works on Paper, exhibition catalogue, Lakeland Arts Trust, Kendal 2005.

David Hodge
December 2014

Supported by Christie’s.


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