Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Giant who captured Iona's power

The Times, April 19, 2010

Three vast canvases dominate the loft of an Edinburgh gallery. The first is a sombre patchwork of greys, like a gloomy morning; the third is similar, though flicked with colour that oozes through a more ordered design. Between the two is a much warmer image of reds and browns, a symphony of stone. Together they make Iona, Sean Scully’s triptych, which has been hailed as “one of the great paintings of the early 21st century”.

If that seems a large statement, Scully wears the claim lightly. Right now he is more concerned with a piece of body art under his right sleeve, a swirling tattoo. “That’s a Druid design – but do you know what it is?” drawls Scully, a big boxer-like man, who throws out questions as if he’s picking a fight. “It’s the three trimesters — it means endless rejuvenation. After I put that on my arm, my wife got pregnant.”

So its power seeped into his body? “Yeah. It’s beautiful though, isn’t it? A 4,000-year-old abstract drawing.”

Scully was tattooed 18 months ago at Newgrange, a prehistoric passage tomb in County Meath, where spirituality hangs in the air. Over decades, the artist, who has lived in New York since 1975, has found similar inspiration among Mayan stones in Mexico and, of course, on Iona, which he first visited while an art student in Newcastle upon Tyne. He returns to St Columba’s island this week, after this brief appearance at the opening of his Edinburgh show. “That first trip to Iona was quite a pilgrimage,” says Scully, 64. “We were four friends and we were all very moved by it. When I came to paint this big triptych, the more powerful it got.

Read the rest of the interview here: Scully.

Excellent photograph by James Glossop

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