LONDON – Irish-American abstract artist Sean Scully counts Irish rocker Bono among his pals and collectors. He wouldn’t be unhappy if some of China’s 1.4 billion people also took a shine to his art being displayed at a retrospective in Shanghai later this month.
Scully, 69, and something of a bear of a man, is delighted that billionaire Chinese property developer Dai Zhikang will show some 100 of his artworks at his Shanghai Himalayas Museum from Monday until Jan. 25. The collection ranges from early in his career to the present day, many of them giant canvases painted with big rectangles of color.
The exhibition is, Scully said, the first big retrospective of modern abstract Western art ever mounted in China. He is pleased it is his works that have been selected, and not some of the perhaps buzzier contemporary art world figures like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst.
“My art is meant to be global, and that’s why I do abstract art,” he said.
“But my work is not simply formalist, it’s layered with all kinds of artistic, social and cultural references and this I think has been very attractive to the Chinese.”
It also will be a test of whether Scully’s work can crack the increasingly affluent Chinese art market. His works already are held by Western collectors and museums.
The exhibition will include early canvases when Scully began work as a figurative artist, including some land and seascapes, to the present-day paintings where geometric shapes predominate.
One of the focal points is a huge five-panel installation on aluminum entitled “Kind of Red” (2013) which Scully has said was inspired by the Miles Davis jazz album “Kind of Blue” from 1959.
“By repeating the motif of twinned blocks of reds, grays and blacks in differing orientations across five separate panels, Scully establishes an expansive, pulsating rhythm,” the Timothy Taylor Gallery in London says.
Scully’s friend Bono, the U2 front man who Scully says has one of his paintings hanging in his New York City apartment, would no doubt be pleased by the musical association.
“He calls me ‘the bricklayer of the soul’ — that’s a piece of pop poetry there,” Scully said, adding that he thinks he and Bono connect because “our aspirations are very similar, we want to go out into the world and we are very idealistic people.”
So how, then, does he square exhibiting his works in China, with its lack of democracy and poor human rights record.
“History shows us that when you isolate a country you exacerbate the situation, and if you are allowed in there it means you can influence the situation,” Scully said.