abstract painting, contemporary art

Sean Scully, Stare (1984)

November 20, 2013

Stare for blog

Is the title of this Sean Scully work an imperative? I only ask because gallery visitors can do little else when confronted with this three-panelled masterpiece from the 1980s.

So we stare . . . but whatever we seek, paint is all we might find. Bands of off-white and off-black, inspired by bleached bone and charred wood, line up like blinds or a grille against a window.

Like most of Scully’s work, Stare pulls you towards its own surface and apprehends you there. The only content or subject of the work being colour in horizontal and vertical brushstrokes

It has been suggested that Stare has a gaze of its own. Given the year of its production, the title hints at Orwellian surveillance, but this is in all probability a red herring, nothing to do with abstract art.

So here, rather than Big Bro’, it is the artist who looks at us. And as is quite often said of written texts, this painting allows Scully to read the viewer, rather than vice versa.

(This idea was touted around by Derrida. Although in a recent Q&A with the artist at Pallant, Scully said he read just enough about deconstruction to know he didn’t need to read any more. Well…)

Here’s how the painting reads this viewer. The Long Island beach, said to have thrown up this palette, also makes me think of winter sunlight seen from polluted city streets.

And yet even a darkening sky can give you a sense of infinity; so the same might be said of these arresting brush strokes. Why? Because art, like ourselves, is infinitely expressive.

That’s not to say a proverbial three year old could have made this work. Unless they belong to you in some way, children are much less interesting than artists. Despite what Picasso said.

No, the irresistible appeal of Stare must be the promise that, by complying with its intention, you could share a visionary experience with a gifted artist. But NB: all experiences will be your own.

Sean Scully: Triptychs can be seen at Pallant House, Chichester, UK until  26 January  2014

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