On Saturday, I had to make the decision between three shows at the Met: Rembrandt and His Circle: Drawings and Prints, Sean Scully: Wall of Light, and Cezanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde. I was going to be accompanied by my best friend who is not an artist, and I knew that I couldn't stay at the Met until closing time, which is 9:00 p.m. on Saturdays. I went to see the Scully show and if time allowed, of if boredom didn't overtake my friend, I will have a look at the Rembrandt show as well. The Scully show turned out to be bigger than I expected, with three rooms full of his work. Room 1 was were the watercolors, prints, and pastel paintings hung; followed by room 2. The second room was the biggest one and the most important since it was here where the focus of the show lied. Amazing color abstractions hung in the walls of the huge modern gallery of the Met. The oil paintings rose up in colossus proportions and I was mesmorized.
Scully's earlier work dealt with geometric shapes and grids, but most of those paintings were monochromatic. After visiting Mexico in the early 1980's the artist developed this continuing series inspired by ancient Mayan architecture. Scully was drawn to the way light and shadows played with the stacked stone blocks of the Mayan aesthetic. The "culture of walls and light," as he called it, released a celebration of color never witnessed in his work before. Scully took his cue for his composition from the Mayas, but later his use of color would be influenced by other places like his home town of London, Munich, Barcelona, New York, and my own Peru. These other inspirations are the reasons why Scully keeps pushing his compositions and color variations further. The Wall of Light series consists of more than 200 pieces and he's not done yet. Not all of his paintings focus on this idea though. In his painting Neils, the artists offers a tribute to his dying friend by utilizing the energetic color yellow, in hopes that his friend would live. Other paintings have titles of more known persons as Giorgio Morandi, Jean-Baptist Corot, and Edouard Vuillard.
Like I had mentioned on my last post, I am a sucker for certain grid paintings. It wasn't up until this show that I found out why I'm inclined to such work. There's always a sense of order in grid paintings, and the ones that I find to be exquisite are works like Scully where the human touch is evident with every brush stroke and color choice. It came to me that what Scully's experience of his visits to Mexico was something I was familiar with growing up in Peru. The appeal for this aesthetic is in me because the Inca empire left a strong presence after the Spanish conquered Peru. Inca architecture is very similar to the way Scully arranges his compositions. Blocks tightly fit together on top and next to each other to form a strong structure, or wall.
I have always thought the Scully's work was great, but seeing the paintings in person for the first time was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I tend to react to good art by making faces my friend calls "orgasmic." But with this show I reacted physically, my heart would not stop beating fast and it felt like I was gasping for air. There has only been one show when this has ever happened and that was the Willem De Kooning: A Centennial Exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. The vastness of the canvases was unbelievable, and when coming close to a painting it felt like the bands of color started to surround me. This kind of surrounding feeling is a staple of the Abstract Expressionist tradition which Scully is a descendant of.
Painting after painting, the walls of the Met came alive with Scully's Walls. I thought the colors in Wall of Light April were very sophisticated. I fell in love the the soft light green rectangles at the bottom right corner of the composition. The neutral hues in this painting made me feel the presence of a cool foggy day. Somewhat how the sky feels when it rains.
This painting, I thought, was amazing. Maybe because I like browns, but all the colors here complement each other beautifully. I love the Ochre tone in between the rich Brown and cool Blue at the bottom of the painting. What makes this piece successful is the Green rectangle on the top center. This Chrome Oxide Green like color has enough punch to let itself be known but it doesn't overpower the surrounding colors. What I loved the most about this painting in particular was that unlike the rest of the series, the artist left the edges of the painting untouched, revealing some of the canvas.
This little painting, little in Scully's scale, was one of many small works in the room 3 of the exhibition. The paintings hanging in this room were very unexpected since I did not know that Scully also painted in very small scales. This room was very comforting and the paintings stood out like little jewels in the dim light of the space. Wall of Light Beach is one of Scully's more upbeat works.For images of all three rooms and the art on display in Sean Scully: Wall of Light visit my flickr page for this show!