• 2 April 2012
en

Sean Scully’s biography

First Recipient of the Heart’s Home Compassion Award

[His] name belongs on the shortest of short lists of the major painters of our time.” Arthur Danto

Born in Dublin in 1945, Sean Scully was only four when his family moved to London and set­tled in an impov­er­ished south London com­mu­nity. Growing up in a poor family, Sean dis­cov­ered art con­tem­plating the sta­tions of the cross. Yet he mostly remem­bers growing as a child in a world “that was gray, hard, spir­i­tu­ally empty, and very vio­lent.” Though many of his friends ended up in insti­tu­tions of cor­rec­tion, he unex­pect­edly found a way out of this tough envi­ron­ment. His unlikely artistic voca­tion orig­i­nates to the day when he was inspired by a repro­duc­tion of Picasso’s Child with a Dove, hanged on the wall of the school. “It was a tender painting in a rough school, he wrote many years later. I looked at that repro­duc­tion a lot. In fact it was as impor­tant to me as the Church in pointing to art as an escape from a harsh, working class envi­ron­ment.” But his par­ents stub­bornly opposed his dream to become an artist. At eigh­teen, Scully was run­ning a London dis­cotheque. Involved in bur­glary and gang-fighting, he made him­self at home in the street with the home­less, and drifted into a rough and vio­lent life.

Not giving up on his dream, he applied to a dozen art schools in London... all of which responded neg­a­tively. In 1965, Scully finally entered Croydon College, in London. Neither pre­co­cious nor espe­cially gifted, but with “unusual empathy, pas­sion, and sin­cerity”, he spent four years in this reme­dial art school for unqual­i­fied people. Painting with pas­sion and drawing inspi­ra­tion from his urban youth, he adopted the grid as his sole sub­ject. By the time he was thirty, he had become a major artist in England. In 1975 he won a Harkness Fellowship which allowed him to move to the United States and study at Harvard. In 1982 he had his first solo show in a gallery in New York. From the col­orful Moroccan rugs to the worn-out facades he pho­tographed in the favelas of Mexico and Brazil, Sean Scully’s many trips around the world led him to pro­gres­sively unfold the tremen­dous human expres­sive­ness of simple stripes. Scully adopted and remained faithful to abstrac­tion in an attempt to “to recon­nect [it] to the realm of human expe­ri­ence”, that is, to values of rela­tion­ship, his­tory, imper­fec­tion, and com­pas­sion. Today, Sean Scully is uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized as one of the most impor­tant living painters. Dozens of books and mono­graphs have been ded­i­cated to his work, while his paint­ings reached impres­sive auc­tion records at Sotheby’s, allowing him to grant full schol­ar­ship to hun­dreds of chil­dren, mostly in South America. In 2006, he was granted the highest recog­ni­tion an artist could ever dream of, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art ded­i­cated a major exhi­bi­tion to his work, under the beau­tiful tittle “walls of light.” He is cur­rently working on an impor­tant com­mis­sion for the church of St Cecilia, in the monastery of Montserrato, Spain.

Father Paul, Art Director of the International Center for a Culture of Compassion, met Sean Scully in his Chelsea studio in the Spring of 2010. Sean Scully showed a great interest in the mis­sion of Heart’s Home, a mis­sion based on simple pres­ence and gen­uine rela­tion­ships. “You and me, he said, we do exactly the same thing.” As Heart’s Home strives to bring human warmth and sup­port to the most iso­lated people, Sean Scully’s work too, moved as it is by the tragic dehu­man­iza­tion of our con­tem­po­rary world, is an attempt to raise up our cul­ture, and to bring it back where it belongs, back into the human heart. That is why Heart’s Home is happy to make him the first recip­ient of its Compassion Award.


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