"Sea Star: Sean Scully at the National Gallery"
As the title indicates, “Sea Star: Sean Scully at the National Gallery is an exhibition of works by the contemporary artist Sean Scully at the National Gallery in London. The exhibition of these abstract works at a museum famed for its representational collection seeks to show that traditional representational art has had an influence on abstract artists and that there are elements of abstraction in traditional representational art.
Sean Scully was born in Dublin in 1945. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to London where they lived in various working class neighborhoods. Scully wanted to become an artist from a young age but had to pursue his early art studies in the evening while working various full-time jobs. However, he would visit museums during his lunch break to study the paintings and was particularly inspired by Van Gogh's “The Chair”, then at the Tate Britain.
After being rejected by 11 art schools, Scully was admitted to the Croydon College of Art and later graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in fine art. Subsequently, he received a fellowship to study art at Harvard University and permanently moved to the United States.
Scully is now a successful artist. Twice nominated for the Turner Prize, he has exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. His works can be found in the permanent collections of museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Hugh Lane Gallery, the Tate, the Guggenheim, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
For this exhibition, Mr. Scully selected Turner's “The Evening Star” as an example of a painting from the National Gallery's collection that inspired him. This work captures a vague, dream-like scene of a boy walking on a beach with a dog as the evening darkness begins to spred. For many years, it was regarded as unfinished but now it is regarded as a masterpiece that is a forerunner of abstract art.
Despite its abstract elements, “Evening Star” bears little resemblance to the completely abstract Scully works that are presented in the same gallery. While Turner's image is a discernible scene, the Scully works consist of horizontal stripes of various colors. Whereas Turner's image has a lightness despite occasional impasto applications of paint, Scully's works, both the oils and pastels, have a heavy feel.
But, Scully's works were never intended to be copies of Turner's painting or even of Turner's style. Rather, they depict the feelings that the artist experienced in response to Turner's work. They are representations of things one knows viscerally rather than visually. Along the same lines, in the next gallery, there are some of Scully's works created in response to Van Gogh's “The Chair.” Once again, Scully's images look nothing like the earlier artist's image. They present the feelings that were inspired by Van Gogh's work.
Inasmuch as the Scully works presented in this exhibition are all either horizontal stripes or checkerboards, viewers might be tempted to think “I could have done that.” Indeed, there is little in the way of traditional draftsmanship in these works and the color combinations are not particularly complicated. However, the simplicity of the technique is besides the point. Just anyone could not produce these works because only Mr. Scully experienced the emotions that inspired these works and which are presented in them.
Above: Sean Scully's "Landline".
Below: JMW Turner's "The Evening Star."
Above: Vincent Van Gogh "The Chair."
Below: Sean Scully's "Arles Abend Vincent"
Art review - National Gallery (London) - “Sea Star: Sean Scully at the National Gallery"