New York

Sean Scully

Duffy Gibbs Gallery

Think of stripes. Think of Noland. Think about taking all of Noland’s colors—mush them together—come up with a color that looks like a muddy background grayish color for a Dutch Masters portrait—give it to Sean Scully and he’ll give you a painting that is more than just handsome—it’s significant.

Scully’s large gray-made-up-of-much-more-than-just-black-mixed-with-white horizontal striped paintings are built-up one- and two-layer thicknesses of alternating bands which create a physical foreground and background. The background is one layer of gray paint, the foreground two. The differences between the two bands are not only those of weight and density, but also the warm/cool relationship resulting from varying coats of the same color. This canonic technique is not unlike that of Porfirio di Donna (physical bands of color on which his dots or three-dimensional points rest); the similarity of surface quality is immediately evident.

In the three diptychs the warm/cool relationships are immediately perceived, both within each panel and between the two. After seeing this in the diptychs, however, one is not sure what to look for in the three single-panel paintings. The comparative color element that the diptychs provide, with the butted vertical edges so beautifully and undisturbingly assembled, made me wonder why the three single panels aren’t a triptych.

Scully’s works are reductive in the classicistic manner of Reinhardt’s black square paintings. Aside from being square (the individual panels of the diptychs), and some being black, they conform to Reinhardt’s postulates of “formless, no top, no bottom, dark, no-contrasting colors, brushwork brushed out to remove brushwork, matte, flat, . . .” Scully’s grays are rich with inclusion of color while not being tedious because of their apparent monochrome. His work evidences a no-nonsense selectivity in the creative process which incorporates a sensitive balance of both intellect and intuition.

The regularity in thickness of the alternating bands is not due, thankfully, to machinelike precision. The line itself is unquestionably reductive, and not merely decorative. The subtle nature of the salient lines forces us to look at what has already been picked out for our seeing. The line functions as descriptive of motion—motion along a horizontal plane.

Scully eliminates gestural configurations in his investigation of reductive esthetics, but not from the standpoint of Minimalism. The Minimalist objective of the ’60s was to “bracket out” (to use Husserl’s terminology) all referential properties as traditions and assumptions, in order to examine the object in its primary state—to get to the essence of the object and, hence, the experience of it.

One is grateful to the Minimalists for cleaning the slate, so to speak, of all extraneous visual nonsense. But while reductive artists of the ’70s, such as Scully, have grown out of the reductive paths of Malevich, Mondrian, Newman, Reinhardt, through the Minimalists, they are now moving into an untitled, unbounded period in painting’s history when the objective is to enrich reductive art so that more is more.

Sharon Gold