Father of post-minimalist abstraction and Turner prize nominated artist Sean Scully studied at Newcastle University’s Fine Art school from 1968-71. His work dealing with journeys and pictorial play is brought back to the department as part of his Sean Scully: 1970 retrospective, which is being presented across the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, and the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University.
Not only does this alone represent a journey, the paintings themselves are hypnotisingly indulgent and send the viewer on a journey of rhythm, colour and interference. In the Hatton Gallery we are greeted rightly so with ‘Bridge’ (1970), which sets the precedent of Scully’s technically intricate and smooth grid like systems; iconic of his early works.
This simultaneously sets the scene of some of the influences for these systems: the girders on the steel bridges of Newcastle itself and the busy streets of Marrakech. The room is flooded with turbulent colour, which is interesting considering each one has been precisely applied and meticulously placed in its own designated section; yet they still manage to bleed into each other when observed as a whole.
In the same space, ‘Soft Ending’ (1969) and ‘Shadow’ (1970) establish a rhythmic relationship. In ‘Soft Ending’ deep purple indefinite vertical stripes appear to be almost vibrating with their contrast to the confident and bold warmer colours below. Next to ‘Shadow’, boasting strong circular motions and upside-down drips under another strict set of horizontal stripes, these works allow a conversation of movement, and suddenly, these two-dimensional works begin to distort each other as well as the viewer’s perceptions.
This confident reliance on systems working actively together is also evident in the Laing Gallery. The bold diagonals of ‘Red Slide’ (1972), which recur throughout the work in this large space, are immediately eye-catching from afar. Whilst the wide-ranging spectrum of candy colours in ‘Diagonal Light’ (1972) seeps into the whole space and bounces off the other works, encouraging the same interactions as in the Hatton Gallery.
Scully crafts all his work with the bold certitude they will distort reality. This confidence is even evident in the sub section of the Laing Gallery space where sketchbooks from Scully’s time at both Croydon College and Newcastle University boast a softer and less rigid style of working. The works on paper, ranging from felt tip to oil pastel, all create the same rhythmic effect of motion and depth that the paintings advance. Looking at the drawings, however, makes it seem increasingly obvious that Scully’s focus on layers and grids encourages the viewer to observe the space in-between the dominant elements without even realising the extent to which this is happening.
This indeed is the genius of Scully’s work; the mixture of basic forms and complex systems involve the audience in a way that makes them re-visit with awe what they have really just seen.
10 February – 28 May.
Michaela Hall is an artist and writer and at the time of writing, is studying for a BA Hons Fine Art degree at Newcastle University.