Jackie Wullschlager reviews Sean Scully’s new London gallery show at the Timothy Taylor gallery. Scully’s rising auction prices and visibility have been unmistakable in recent years. Just look at Eli Broad standing proudly before his.
Is Scully Rothko’s heir? Born in Ireland in 1945, reared in slum London in a family he describes as “dysfunctional beyond belief”, Scully was a brawler, blues DJ and professional typesetter – the tough, physical quality of his pictures, their jazzy rhythms and slab-like insets each reflect so many layers from his life – before he squeezed in an art education in his 20s. He moved to New York in 1975, five years after Rothko’s suicide, and fretted through monochrome minimalist lines and grids before the breakthroughs on show here: monumental striped canvases composed of several panels of varying thickness, not quite fitting together, layered in broad, wet on wet, crude strokes slashed on with household paintbrushes. [ . . . ]
Yet what Scully calls this “troubling density” is also very European, thick with references to the history of art. A more measured, less ecstatic colourist than Rothko, he repeatedly quotes Velázquez blacks, Monet’s silvery greys, Cézanne’s building blocks and recurring landscape hues of ochres, browns, blues. Matisse is recalled in the push-pull of figuration-abstraction and also the oriental references (both Matisse and Scully were inspired by the patterns of Moroccan textiles). De Kooning’s paradoxical macho grace, Pollock’s linearity, Jasper Johns’ rigour, also come to mind, and Scully has stressed too an affinity with the London School, noting “a slightly depressive aspect … the colour of old light in Freud, Auerbach, Kossoff and myself”.
Sean Scully Re-invigorates Abstract Painting (Financial Times)