Sean Scully on self-belief, election billboards and the perils of rural Germany – Wallpaper*
21 October 2020
It’s early September and a plague of flies has just descended on a farm in Mooseurach, Germany where Sean Scully has a studio. ‘A fucking fly bit the middle of my tattoo out’, says the artist over FaceTime, pointing at his forearm towards the now-dismembered Celtic symbol for fertility.
An interview with Sean Scully is like a portrait sitting with a sitter that needs little direction. He describes his life and work in a quilt of similes and anecdotes stitched together with warmth and wit: his coarse upbringing, familial fondness, traumas, brushes with US politics, fervent spirituality, those he admires – from Agnes Martin to Tess Jaray and Béla Bartók – and vibrantly hued recollections of his rise to become ‘the token of abstraction.’
Scully, as he says, came from abject poverty. ‘I probably did the biggest stretch in the history of the art world’ declares the 75-year-old artist. He’s been an immigrant twice: once when he moved from Ireland in 1949 to London, and again when he transfered to New York in 1975. Before breaking into art, he was a brick cleaner on a building site, a Christmas postman, a plasterer’s labourer and had a job stacking cardboard boxes in a factory. Fitting, perhaps, that stacks and bricklike forms would provide the building blocks for Scully’s inimitable visual language.
Image: Installation view of Sean Scully, ‘Insideoutside’, Waldfrieden Sculpture Park. Photo by Michael Richter