Sean Scully: Heading East

The Irish/American Artist Tells of His Experience Bringing His Abstract Western Works to China

Being the first western abstract artist ever to tour his art in China, it is only apt that Follow the Heart: The Art of Sean Scully, is a presentation of Sean’s career over the past 50 years, featuring over 100 works. It will include some of his most iconic and important pieces, such as Night and Day, and follow his progression from figurative to abstract work. We caught up with the twice Turner Prize nominee about bringing western abstraction to the east:

First Impressions
“I hadn’t been to China before, but I knew a lot about it. When I was young, before I went to art school, I was very Left politically. And we studied China a lot. I had an expectation, and a lot of respect for it as an old, great culture, and as a culture that had been radicalized. And I was excited to see how it was now.”

Driving Crazy
“What I found was that the driving was much crazier than I though it would be. Like in Sicily, they practically touch each other out of the car windows! And I thought that was very interesting, because driving is always an expression of a society. It wasn’t as daunting as people implied, the cities were big, but they weren’t that big. Not more than I’m used to. There was a certain intimacy about it.”

Selecting Works for China
“We wanted to show the story. So it’s important to start with the figurative work, which is the way I used to paint in the 60s. And we showed different periods: the minimal paintings from the 70s, the figurative, abstract, sculptural paintings form the 80s, the window paintings form the 90s, the wall of light paintings from the 00s, up the present work.”

East Meets West in Heaven
“When I found out that the colour of heaven in China is black, I was very fascinated, because of course in the west its white. So this dialogue between black and white, east and west, is just great. So we tried to make a room that’s black and white. Because everything is the opposite of everything else.”

China Specific Piece
“I made a sculpture called China Piled Up. Because there’s a lot of trade back and forth, in and out of China now between the West and East so I wanted to make a steel sculpture that was like shipping containers or boxes. We went to the place where the materials were made, outside Shanghai, to where the peasants live. It’s abject poverty. Its always amazing to see behind a façade: ‘the back of a building is more honest than the front.”

China-Ireland Realities

“This exhibition in China is the most important exhibition I’ve ever had. Because it reaches the greatest number of people, it causes the greatest impact. Like Ireland, China has been the victim of colonization, and I know what that is, and I know what a partition country is. I’ve watched China’s evolution with an awesome admiration. To be a part of this at a seminal point is amazing.”

Sean Scully Footnotes
1. Music has always been very important to him, as an Irish man with a Singer for a mother. He was also singer in a band for a little while
2. He counts his friendship U2 singer, Bono, as a huge influence on his life and work, saying that they have inspired each other without question
3. His work has been exhibited internationally and is held by numerous public collections worldwide, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, New York
4. Born in Dublin in 1945, he moved to England with his family in1949. He studied at Croydon College of Art (1965–7), and then studied and taught at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (1967–71), and in the USA at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (1972–3).
5. In 1975 he was awarded a Harkness Fellowship and established his studio in New York, where he settled, becoming an American citizen in 1983.

Follow the Heart: The Art of Sean Scully 1964-2014 is open from 12 March – 23 April 2015 at Central Academy of Fine Arts Beijing.