Sean Scully
Irish American Abstract Artist: Biography, Paintings.


Sean Scully (b. 1945)

Sean Scully is an Irish-born American artist and one of the most notable abstract painters. He has twice been a Turner Prize nominee. His abstract art is displayed in the best art museums around the world and in several Irish art galleries. He is a major figure in the history of Irish art.

Born in Dublin, Scully moved with his family to England in 1949. He studied painting at London's Croydon College of Art, then at Newcastle University and finally at Harvard University in the United States. In 1975 he settled in New York City and in 1983 became an American citizen. He has recently moved to Munich.


For details of painters/sculptors,
see: Abstract Artists Ireland.

For a guide to oils/watercolours
see: Irish Painting.
For answers to popular queries,
see: Irish Art Questions.

See: Definition of Art.

Nominated for the Turner Prize in 1989 and in 1993, Scully's artworks have been exhibited throughout Europe and the United States, including shows at the Kunstammlung Nordeim Westfalen in Dusseldoerf, Germany, (2001); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2000); the Milwaukee Art Museum, Denver Art Museum, and Albright-Knox Gallery (1998-99); Galeria Arte Moderna, Villa delle Rose in Bologna, and Galerie National de Jeu de Paumme in Paris (1996). He is represented in the permanent collections of a number of prestigious museums and public galleries. These include: including the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the National Gallery of Australia, Nagoya City Art Museum, Japan, the Tate Gallery London, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, and various private and public collections in many countries around the world. In 2006, Scully gave eight of his pictures to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, which opened a room dedicated to his works.



According to art critics, Scully's artistic vision follows the traditions of early European concrete art in the manner of Mondrian or Theo Van Doesburg, in relation to its desire for harmony and order, but late American abstraction (à la Pollock and Rothko), in its insistence on utilizing large powerful canvases to express a personal state of mind. This tension or contradiction - between European order and American energy - or more specifically, the difficulty of finding a balance between Mondrian's clarity, Matisse's sensuousness, Jackson Pollock's spontaneous drip-painting, and Rothko's fluidity - has been addressed by Scully's art in different ways over the years.

In the mid-late 1970s, the cool, reductivist look and geometric precision of his pictures projected a clear influence of minimalism. (See Non-Objective art.)


During the 1980s, they gradually changed and became looser and more expressive. With thick brushstrokes and broad gestures, the canvases showed themselves as dense, yet luminous, surfaces. Scully's most recent pictures are even more free, more open and fluid. Painted spontaneously in thick layers of paint, they present a tactile surface similar to that of flesh and skin which gives them a vivid sensuality.

Monumental in its scale and visual impact, Wall of Light Brown projects immense energy, but also a sense of vulnerability. Painted in sombre yet luminous colours, the painting is truly melancholic. According to Scully, he is trying to capture something that has a classical stillness but enough emotion or dissonance to create an unresolved quality.

Arguably, one of the most interesting aspects of Scully's abstract shapes is their resemblance to prehistoric forms such as those of Neolithic henges (eg. Stonehenge and Newgrange) and the latter's role in early Druid culture. These elemental shapes have a sort of universality that commands our attention.

Among his most interesting recent works are: Union Grey, Wall of Light White (1998), Wall of Light Brown (2000), Wall of Light, Red Red (2001), Floating Red Wall (2002) and Floating Grey Wall (2002). Sean Scully is a major influence on abstract painting in the visual art of Ireland and is a member of Aosdana.

Most Expensive Painting By Sean Scully

The auction record for an abstract work by Sean Scully was set in 2012, when his geometric oil painting, entitled Wall of Light, Stone, was sold at Christie's, in London, for £601,250. Scully's Wall of Light, Orange Green sold at Sotheby's in 2010 for £565,250.

More Information About Visual Arts in Ireland

• For details of other abstract painters and sculptors, see: Irish Artists: Paintings and Biographies.
• For more about geometric abstract artists like Sean Scully, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For more about non-objective art, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.