19 July 2019

Sean Scully: Landline, at the Wadsworth Atheneum

Landline, Orient, 2017.

In May DH and I ventured to the Wadsworth Atheneum, an art museum in Hartford, Connecticut, for a exhibit by artist Sean Scully.  Generally, I enjoy visiting this exhibition space.  However, for the Scully show, lighting was a little problematic. Many of the works were created using gloss paint on aluminum or copper panels, making the paintings subject to glare, which is apparent in some of my photographs.

There is an excellent hard-cover catalog:  Sean Scully Landline, ed.  Stephane Aquin. ISBN 9781588346414

Visitor in blue poses in front of blue painting.

These recent works express the artist's reaction to the concept of horizons. From the exhibition text:
Sean Scully's vivid memories of coastal Ireland and the promise of a new life in the United States inspired the thick, gestural brushstrokes and loose, horizontal bands of color in his Landline series.  His 1999 photography [shown below] titled Land Sea Sky began the series more than twenty years after Scully emigrated to America.  Its distillation of the natural environment into three parts moved the artist towards a new mode of abstraction.  The Landline compositions are simple yet sublime and show the artist's transition away from his earlier hard-edge minimalism and subsequent spatially complex works.  Here, Scully's later, more expressive style embodies the physical and emotional dimensions of experience, loss, and memory over a lifetime.

Scully is considered one of the most influential painters of our age.  With a particular visual language that blends the rigidity of European concrete art - which relied on pure geometric forms - with the ethereality of American abstraction, Scully established his stature at the center of abstract painting today.  This is the first comprehensive museum presentation in the United States of the artist's famed Landline series, represented in paintings, photography, works on paper, and sculpture.

Land Sea Sky, 1999. (Shadow is photographer.)

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1955.

I think the Rothko in the image above counts as an example of the "ethereality" of American abstraction.  In addition to paintings, the Scully show included watercolors, which are perhaps closer cousins to the Rothko works, with their matte texture and acknowledgment of borders and edges.

Land Sea Sky (#1, #2, #3, and #4), 1999. Watercolor on paper.

Land Sea Sky, detail.

The Wadsworth Atheneum itself is a fascinating blend of old and new architecture.  We got lucky and visited during the second Saturday of the month, so admission was free. (Not to worry - acquisitions were made in the excellent museum shop.)  Scully is also a sculptor and one of his sculptures sat happily outside the museum, a nice contrast to the sort of neo-Gothic style of the old building.

Entry atrium, Wadsworth Atheneum. Wall mural by Sol LeWitt.

30, 2018. Aluminum and automotive paint.

Scully on his (tongue-in-cheek) introduction to sculpture:
When I was fifteen years old, I worked every Saturday in Woolworth's...my job was to load the shelves with everything and anything that was running low, then I would take the flattened cardboard boxes...to recycle them in the bailing machine, and this is where I became a young sculptor, every Saturday.
The bailing machine was a metal box, with a gate in front.  I would introduce the flat box and crank down the mechanism to push all the disobedience out of them.   This is how they would stay, in compressed submission...at the end of it all, I put wires through to bind it all together...every single time I opened the gate...my proletariat art work [would] fall out in the yard, and they were amazing, in their repetition and variety, to look at.
Now when I make sculpture I make them the same way.  I squeeze all the air and space out, by stacking. - Sean Scully, 2016

Stack Blues, 2017. Automotive paint and aluminum.

A video clip in a screening area portrayed Scully wielding a wide brush, dipped in buckets of shiny paint.  The width of the brush determined the width of the painted stripes, or horizons.  There is somewhat more variability in the sizes of the bands in the works on paper, whether pastels or prints.  This makes sense to me, as some horizons are narrower than others, aren't they?

Pastel paintings.

Landline 11.20.16, 2016. Pastel on paper.

Landline 11.20.16, detail.

Landline Blue Black, 2016. Aquatint on paper.

Horizon Nine, 2013.

Horizon Nine, detail.

Scully often works in series, completing paintings in a limited amount of time, without much, if any, preparatory activity. This the visual artist's analog to a jazz musician's riffs or an actor's improv session. From the wall text:
I always paint quick, I paint as quick as I can.  I'm interested in getting it: I'm not interested in worrying about it, and going back and making corrections, asking myself if it's any good.  It's connected to an idea and an action. -Sean Scully, 2015

Visitors ponder two paintings from 2016.

Landline Bent Triptych, 2016.

The above triptych is a singular departure from the horizontal format and seems unsettled - an abrupt jolt from the land, sea and sky theme - regions visible from the surface of the world -  to a view of geological strata, only visible when the earth is rent, or eroded. The tripartite form is also confusing - it's obviously not a series, but is it multiple points of view? Discontinuity?

Landline Red Bridge, 2016.

Above is an oblique view of one of my favorites in the show; at this angle there was no glare from the lighting, and I think the bit of perspective only adds to the sense of a distant, disappearing or even unreachable horizon.

From the wall text:
The idea of the horizon line has been important to me for a long time.  And maybe it's an immigrant vision because an immigrant is always looking at the horizon line.  Because you're looking at something you can't see but can only imagine.  And for us humans, it also represents eternity. -Sean Scully, 2007

View from screening area.