Sean Scully: Sea Star – National Gallery

13 April – 11 August 2019 @ The National Gallery

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The National Gallery presents a solo show by the Irish artist Sean Scully, abstract painter par excellence of, always and only, abstract paintings. Completely. Proudly. For fifty years.

For this special occasion at The National Gallery, the propeller prompting these works of art is William Turner and his well-known piece, ‘The Evening Star’. The 1830 painting depicts a young man on a deserted beach, homecoming under a darkening sky; the scene and colours give us a melancholy glimpse of a landscape just as the sun silently leaves room for the pale light of the moon and the northern star, which we only see reflected in the waves of the sea.  The title wasn’t originally conceived by Turner, but extracted later on from some verses found in his sketchbook, between 1829-30…

Romantic, isn’t it?

Scully reports his feelings about it in an interview with The National Gallery: “I always observe the horizon – the way it ends up on the sea and touches the beginning of the sky; to the way the sky presses the sea … I think of the land, of the sea to the sky. And they always have an impressive connection. I try to paint this: the fundamental sense that unites … ”

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This sibylline and ardent speech defines Scully’s artistic decision – the abstraction of an emotion which is extrapolated and cristallized into color, composition – an exploration dedicated primarily to the meaningful power of the image as contemplation or reflection upon an emotion. In other words, the very concept of ‘abstract’ in its etymological meaning resonates as conceptual, tangible, theoretical – something vague, difficult to catch. But also not necessarily ethereal or unreal. If it drags you to another place, away from the tedium of life through the purity and simplicity of Turner’s sublime landscapes, we are still allowed to call it abstraction – and that’s when the two painters suddenly seem to have much more in common than at first glance.

The same suggestion for memories in an evocative form is achieved through colored chessboards, where the Irish painter recalls horizons, boundless lands and architecture through abstract symbolisms. The connection that Scully lives through Turner’s work is scaled down through oil-painted canvas with thick brushstrokes to recreate bright colors with rich nuances.

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And if the observer’s eye, even the most attentive, for some reason fails to establish an immediate connection between Scully’s conceptual lines and Turner’s suggestive landscapes, we couldn’t give a fuck less.  At the end, abstractism is overrated and nowadays might seem a bit boring.  The colored boards are huge, balanced and pleasant to look at (you can always play ‘spot the difference’, as I have pleasantly entertained myself with for an hour), and fuck conceptualism.

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