Sean Scully



Not on display

Sean Scully born 1945
Oil paint on 4 canvases
Displayed: 1835 × 2490 × 230 mm
Presented by Janet Wolfson de Botton 1996

Display caption

Scully has developed a distinctive visual language of stacked horizontal and vertical stripes, painted in varying widths. His compositions thrive on imbalance and opposition, incorporating sharply-contrasting elements and irregular rhythms. In Tonio Scully joined four separate panels of varying depths to create a painted relief. The parts occupy several planes and project over the edge of what might otherwise have been a perfect rectangle. ‘I liked the idea of looking at a painting that you could not look at just from the front but had to move around’, he has said.

Gallery label, February 2011

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Technique and condition

The work consists of four separate paintings which are secured together with 75 mm metal bolts along each of the common edges. The central vertical painting protrudes above the plane of the other three by approximately 50 mm. The support of each painting consists of a single piece of fabric, attached to a rigid softwood strainer with wire staples at their rear edges. The fabric of the painting at the lower right of the work is a piece of commercially primed linen canvas, whereas the fabric used on the other three paintings is a medium weight cotton duck. The strainers are made up from a variety of designs but all have glued butt-joined corners with half-lapped and glued cross over points.

The pieces of cotton canvas were prepared with a white pigmented ground, possibly an acrylic, after they had been stretched over the strainer. However, the commercially prepared linen appears to have a slightly different preparation, consisting of an unpigmented animal glue size layer beneath an oil-based primer.

The paint is oil and was applied exclusively by brush. All four canvasses were first covered with a grey imprimatura layer. This layer on the painting on the lower right is a slightly darker grey than that used on the other three paintings. These grey layers are smooth and rather thin and the canvas weave texture evident through them. An initial composition was then established using a lean and matt black paint to mark out the borders of the stripes (these lines are still visible between many of the stripes). The coloured stripes were then built up with several paint layers, all of which appear to have been of a very rich and buttery consistency. Typically there are a minimum of two or three distinct layers in each coloured stripe, but in some regions there appear to be even more. Unlike the imprimatura, these paints were not brushed out at all, and may have been applied in a single brushstroke. The result is a heavily contoured surface that is characterised by very distinctive brushmarking along the direction of the form (certainly the canvas weave texture is completely obscured, due to the high total paint thickness in these areas). The colours used for these layers are predominantly opaque, apart from the deep green colour used in the vertical bands which is more transparent, and all exhibit a high gloss. Most of them were applied wet on dry, but some of the top layers were applied using a wet-in-wet technique, for example the dirty yellow colour of the left hand painting has picked up the black layer beneath it and the bright yellow vertical bands often display streaks of the underlying orange. The application of at least the top paint layers on the three canvasses to the right of the work was executed with them bolted together (as these layers extend onto the other paintings at their joins), but the left hand painting appears to have been completed separately.

None of the paintings have a varnish layer and the work is not framed. The piece is in an excellent condition with no signs of any deterioration in the paint films and the rigid strainers are still providing sound support.

Tom Learner
November 1997


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