Illustrated companion

Sean Scully's relief paintings. which he has made since 1981. have a superficial resemblance to Minimal Art but in fact their structures are arrived at intuitively, their colours are rich, varied and expressive, and their surfaces bear the evidence of the painter's gesture with the brush. Scully's aim may be said to be to extend and develop the Abstract Expressionist project of creating abstract art that nevertheless carries symbolic connotations, as the artist explained '[I am] interested in art that addresses itself to our highest aspirations. That's why I can't do figurative paintings - I think figurative painting is ultimately trivial now. It's all humanism and no form ... Abstraction's the art of our age ... it allows you to think without making oppressively specific references so that the viewer is free to identify with the work. Abstract art has the possibility of being incredibly generous, really out there for everybody. Its a nondenominational religious art. I think it's the spiritual art of our time.'

Scully has said that this painting, as well as relating to the work of Rothko and Newman, has links with the tall vertical sculptures of Giacometti, which he also admires greatly. The painting is named after, and dedicated to, the artist's son Paul who died in 1983. The artist associates the tall central panel with the figure of his son. The triptych format places the work within the tradition of religious painting, and Scully has made other triptychs with religious titles.

The paint surfaces of Scully's works are built up in layers, the colour of one layer often being different from that of the previous one. The artist considers the build up of paint in depth to be a metaphor for depth of feeling and inner life.

The panels were not all painted together and the right hand one was taken from another work because Scully felt it was needed for this one. 'Paul' like other triptychs by Scully has a sense of stability and solidity although Scully has said that he is also interested in the tension set up by the 'violence' of the joins of the panels within the overall stability of structure.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.285