“I called my painting Guadalupe, [because of] my affection for Mexico, not forgetting Cézanne and the coming grid, but also after Beckett and after the liquor-soaked, brown-black, dark-green shiny tiled floor of a bar somewhere up in a small Durango town, where at the back you can rent a room for twelve dollars.”
– Sean Scully, 2022
Sean Scully returns to Los Angeles almost 50 years after making his US debut there, unveiling a selection of new and older works at Lisson’s recently-launched LA space. Celebrating the development of his practice over five decades, this era-spanning exhibition draws formal and conceptual resonances between Scully’s earliest grid paintings, which were first shown in Santa Monica in 1975, all the way forward to equally innovative, large-scale works from 2023.
Scully’s so-called Supergrid series of works began while still a student in London and Newcastle in the UK during the 1960s, progressing towards a sophisticated language of overlapping, interwoven stripes painted between taped boundaries. Influenced by his tutor Ian Stephenson, whose dripped and dotted paintings featured in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Swinging Sixties film Blow Up, Scully began working on his own complex, focus-pulling compositions that likewise refused to fully reveal themselves at first sight, allowing only glimpses into its structure and necessitating prolonged viewing times. In epic feats of labor and painterly engineering, Scully built up dozens of horizontal and vertical lines, only to intensify this grid with multiplying layers of crisscrossing diagonals, creating expansive panels that exceeded even his tall frame and bodily span.
Perhaps the apotheosis of this period is Scully’s monumental work, Blaze (1971), a dizzying matrix of neon pinks, sports-car reds and flame-licked yellows. Subtlety and variation in color treatment followed in the similarly dynamic and optically disorienting square field of Second Order ½ (1974), while the space between surface and ground is further disrupted by Final Grey ½ (1974), which still features the strips of tape clinging to the work and providing another porous and translucent framework.
This knotty, woven texture reappears half a century later in the newest painting here, entitled Dark In (2023). The brushmarks have long ago loosened, widened and now incorporate many more than a single, bold color in each sweep, following more naturalistic and gestural shades and contours in comparison to the sleek, rectilinear lines of the 1970s. Here too the picture plane is broken up, though not by tape, but by an inserted aluminum panel of a newly rotated and concentrated lattice work. Among other newer paintings are two recent triptychs, including the centrally located Guadalupe (2022), which revisits the scale and ambition of Blaze, only now the eye is moved between chunky, rugged blocks of unfathomably deep moss-green and maroon hues, which sit on a buzzing, glowing, chessboard backdrop.
In the intervening years between these disparate bodies of gridded paintings, Scully himself moved to the US fulltime in 1975, settling in New York after a long cross-country road trip. He has returned many times since to show in California, with his own written recollections and photographs of these formative visits included in an accompanying catalogue to this exhibition, also featuring texts by art critics Peter Frank and Donald Kuspit.