Sean Scully turned 70 in June 2015, and these two volumes
celebrate that event and the artist's continuing energy, drive and vision,
not to mention his relentless exhibitions schedule and prodigious output.
Both are exquisitely produced hardback books, one a posthumous gathering of
Arthur C. Danto's critical essays from journals and catalogues, the other a
book of tributes, comments and stories from friends and associates of the
artist. Surprisingly, the latter, which I was suspicious of (there's nothing
worse than public pats on the back) is the better of the two.
Why you ask? Well, firstly, I have the catalogues with the Danto essays in,
so I felt I'd read much of his book before, and secondly, Danto is too much
of a pedant for my taste. He ponders, peruses, and, well plods, in his writing. He gets to make his point
eventually, but it isn't half a long slow journey. I like my critics a bit
more exciting and quick-witted. I wouldn't dream of suggesting Danto is not
clever, erudite and intelligent, but I don't need, for example, the argument
about flatness reiterated and
reconsidered: it's a given in the art world, it happened a long time ago. And
sometimes you get the feeling that a twelve page article is really summed up
in the title: 'Architectural Principles in the Art of Sean Scully'? I get it
(and indeed many others have) - city grids, building blocks, constructivist
tendencies. 'Photographs as Pivots in the Art of Sean Scully'? Well, yes, I
have the book of Scully's photographs, and they also appear in many
catalogues over the last decade or so. So, yes, there are insights and
intelligent points here, but they are hidden in the verbose meanderings of an
over-careful and slow-moving writer.
On the other hand, the range, surprise and sheer verve of many of the
contributions to Bricklayer of the Soul, not to mention the abundance of reproductions of Scully's work,
make it a joy to read. I don't know who many of the contributors are, and it
doesn't matter... Rock stars, gallery owners, critics, friends, even Scully's
young son, have all contributed to this volume. The book is full of personal
reminiscences, personal responses, declarations of love and friendship,
poems, exuberant bullshit, conceptual writing, namedropping, even some art
criticism. It's fantastic, slightly over-the-top, enjoyable and insightful.
Oisin Scully, age 5, puts it best: 'His paintings are nice and they are big
or small, stripey or they can be drawings of real things.' Scully is the real
thing, an ambitious and hardworking artist whose abstracts speak to people,
and illuminate both the spaces they inhabit and the people who view them. If
you don't know his work, the second of these books would be a good place to
start with it's generous and surprisingly eclectic gathering of images, and
its numerous reasons and ways to engage with his work.
© Rupert Loydell