The 12 / Dark Windows
Read a short excerpt, below, from the introduction to 'On The Horizon: A Conversation with Sean Scully' by Kelly Grovier, from the forthcoming Lisson Gallery catalogue. Thames & Hudson are publishing an entire book of their conversations in September, 2021
'Horizons seal us in. They fasten the sky shut. But they also show us the way out – that something luminous lies beyond. Our souls seize upon the shimmer of horizons because they, like the soul itself, are inherently ungraspable. “The health of the eye,” the American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson asserted in his seminal essay Nature in 1836, “seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired so long as we can see far enough.” Obsessed by horizons, Emerson perceived in their distant smudging of earth and air, sea and sky, a visual test capable of measuring the depth of one’s spirit. “There is a property in the horizon,” he observed, “which no man has but he whose eyes can integrate all the parts.”
Sean Scully has such eyes. Since 1999, Scully has endeavored to “integrate all the parts” of the horizon – physical and philosophical, poetic and pastoral – in an ongoing series of lyrical paintings he christens Landlines. Comprised of highly gestural, stacked horizontal stripes of varying widths that, painting to painting, range in number from 4 to 11, Scully’s Landlines are the product of a remarkably prismatic imagination, one capable simultaneously of unifying and refracting the mysteries of what it means to be sealed inside the world while the soul’s eyes are fixed elsewhere. In a brief note that Scully wrote in July 2001 (one of countless short prose sketches on the nature of art and life that he has preserved over the course of his long career), he reflects on the essence of the emerging Landline series:
I was always looking at the horizon line at the way the end of the sea touches the beginning of the sky, the way the sky presses down on to the sea … I try to paint this, this sense of the elemental coming-together of land and sea, sky and land, of blocks coming together side by side, stacked in horizon lines endlessly beginning and ending – the way the blocks of the world hug each other and brush up against each other, their weight, their air, their color, and the soft uncertain space between them.
“The soft uncertain space between” the bands of Scully’s Landlines is where the magic of his paintings happens. This is where the inchoate elements that constitute meaning – memory and metaphor, perception and feeling – gnash and spark. This is where all the horizons that one has ever seen and ever dreamt of seeing clash and cohere, where the vanishing points of one’s exterior and interior selves converge.'