Lisson Gallery

Sean Scully interviewed in The Sunday Times

16 April 2023

This spring, Sean Scully takes over the grounds and historic interiors of Houghton Hall in Norfolk for an exhibition that showcases the full range of the artist’s sculpture. In the Hall and Contemporary Gallery, the artist also shows a significant group of paintings and works on paper. Before the opening of the solo exhibition, Scully was interviewed in The Sunday Times.

His own art is abstract, lines and rectangles of superbly controlled colours, and his sculptures are similarly disciplined. He did stray from abstraction — to paint Oisin. He is a feeling painter, a modernist romantic. He rejects the coldness of the previous generation of minimalists and especially of Andy Warhol. The mention of the name brings out the street-fighting man of the Old Kent Road.

“It’s this inhuman mirror. That is brutal. And that squeezes out all rumination, all doubt, all questioning, all tenderness, all romantic feeling. It just smashes it. And a soup can is a f***ing soup can and here it is in these colours. Yeah, Andy — it’s f***ing great, isn’t it? No. It’s not f***ing great.”

He is often compared to another great colour-obsessed abstract painter, Mark Rothko. He also rejects this. “My nature is actually not like Rothko’s. He was a sedentary, depressive man. His paintings are really suprematism squeezed through Turner. They both were very obdurate painters.”

He came from nothing — “a damned terrible upbringing”, he called it. It made him a radical, not in a good way. “I was a real commie bastard. I used to do political art — against Vietnam and against apartheid and all that, and we adored Bertrand Russell. We were the Bertrand Russell groupies. And that’s what I knew about Trafalgar Square, I didn’t know a f***ing thing about the National Gallery.”

His mother was a vaudeville singer and his grandmother, who had come over to London with six daughters and one son, bought little scraps of transparent film to stick on the windows of her house in Highbury. Colour grabbed him and has never let him go. He especially adored his grandmother.

“You can imagine what a journey that was from Clonmel, down in Tipperary, with a stop-off in Dublin. She came to London and rented this house on Highbury Hill, No 82. Which I have on various occasions tried to buy, of course. I’m more like Proust, I think, than Beckett.”

Read the full feature by Bryan Appleyard in The Sunday Times here.

'Sean Scully at Houghton Hall - Smaller Than The Sky' opens on 23 April 2023 and run until 29 October.

Sean Scully interviewed in The Sunday Times
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