Several years ago The Crandall Library in Glens Falls, New York had an exhibition called. “Battenkill Inspired”. This year Hannah deGarmo started filming the people in that exhibition. All of us live on or near the river. I traverse it every day on my way to work. Finding how to convey both the look and feeling of this river has preoccupied me for years.
My painitngs are about light. When I paint representationally and I am about the business of rendering light, I often choose a subject that is back lit. It seems to offer the most extensive and complex qualities of light — light on a surface, passing through a surface, reflecting off of a surface, often highlighting transparency, translucency, reflection, or glitter. The most complete expression of this can be seen in my china paintings, although it occurs in most of my work.
But how do you get these qualities when you work abstractly? It’s not something I figured out all at once. It started when I was trying to paint the light that glitters off the surface of water. I used white paint, but it felt dull and did not leap off the surface of the canvas. Then I scapped the silver off of a CD and applied that, and that didn’t work either. As I drove home one rainy night I noticed how the stripe on the road reflected the light off my headlights and I thought — that’s what I need. I called the highway department and asked them if I could buy some reflective road paint. It’s not the paint that is reflective, he told me, its the beads of glass that we put in it, and with that he gave me the address of their supplier.
Later I came upon diamond dust, which is even better than highway glass for reflecting light, but I was unable to find a supplier. I used the highway glass to good effect in the river painting.
Then I was working on a series of almond tree paintings, which at first I rendered quite realistically. But after taking a workshop with Vincent di Siderio, a well-known representational painter, who mentioned that he often started a painting by throwing tar on it or rustoleum, I thought, why not approoach this work that way. Apply the paint differently and why not use mettalic paint, after all, Jackson Pollock did.
When I finished “Tree in Twilight” and hung it on my west facing wall, I observed how the light reflected off the surface of the painting and changed every time you moved. It also took on different qualities of light at different times of the day. Immeditately I saw that instead of showing the light of the moment, it was creating a different light each moment. With Monet’ s paintings of the Epte River, he shows you how the light changes moment to moment. With “Tree in Twilight”, the painting itself changes each moment.
From there the work became more and more abstract, but the quality of light and sensation of light remained the subject. Whether I paint representationally or abstractly, I still want the painting to have light emanating from the surface.
All projects have their precedents, and The Grid Project is no exception. For many years I used photography as an aid to my painting. I kept looking for subjects that were more and more abstract. I want the image to take on a new meaning as an abstract construct that has nothing to do with the subject. But I also want to retain in the image some of the things I explored in my painitngs: transparencies, translucencies, reflections, and qualities of light.
“My paintings talk of relationships. How bodies come together. How they touch. How they separate. How they live together, in harmony and disharmony. The character of bodies changes constantly through my work. According to color. The opacity and transparency of how the surface is made. This gives it its character and its nature. Its edge defines its relationship to its neighbor and how it exists in context. My paintings want to tell stories that are an abstracted equivalent of how the world of human relationships is made and unmade. How it is possible to evolve as a human being, in this.”Sean Scully
Sean Scully, “Red Sky”
When I first saw Scully’s paintings I was struck by their physicality. These are big objects. Frequently the stretchers are quite deep. Not only does he paint blocks of color that are stacked one on top of the other, but he also physically builds paintings into paintings. One stretched canvas is inserted into a hole in another canvas. A completely seperate entity inserted into the picture plane. The paint is viseral, thick, lucious, complex, layered, Like nature itself. But then, the big surprise: These paintings are filled with light. So, when you look at these blocks of color you think about what kind of light and even what kind of weather they exist in.
Sean Scully, “Moorland”
Looking at some of Scully’s photos, you do get a sense that this notion of place, light and atmosphere is not foreign to him.
Sean Scully, “Inis Oirr Vl” , 2005, black and white photograph, 56.7 x 72.6 cm
Sean Scully, Inis Oirr Vl , 2005, black and white photograph, 56.7 x 72.6
Sean Scully, Wall of Light Cubed, 2007, granite, Aix en Provence, France
They are not just paintings about how things look in nature, but about how they behave — body next to body, stone next to stone.
Sean Scully, “End of Day”
Sean Scully, 1.1.08, 2008, pastel on paper, 56.8 x 76.6 cm