For many years now, they have been escaping to that island at Christmas. It is a remote corner halfway between civilisation and wilderness, with fabulous beaches and no electric light at night. It is called Eleuthera, a small island in the Bahamas, where Oisín, their son, plays happily with the sand and in the ocean. And then one year, from this radical and profound happiness, this experience which was at one time unknown to him, came a new impulse: the need for Sean Scully to return to figurative painting after half a century of work which has placed him among the leading contemporary abstract artists.
The concession for the CAC Malaga has been granted to the same company that has held it since the CAC first opened ten and a half years ago (Gestión Cultural y Comunicación) and it is relaunchingwith an exhibition which was previously at the Albertina Museum in Vienna, from 7 June to 8 September.
'Eleuthera' consists of 44 pieces created by Scully between 2015 and 2018, and includes about 20 large oil paintings in which this artist, who is Irish by birth but now has an American passport, gives free rein to the colour and emotion which already palpitated in his abstract works.
"There we were beside the sea, in the Bahamas, as a family. We go there for Christmas every year, and I was watching my son play and taking photos and thinking that he was an eternal child, like any other, child," said Scully at the opening of the exhibition. "Then I thought that photography wasn't really enough to represent that, and started to think about the possibility of capturing it in a picture, a painting. As you know, I have painted abstracts for many years, decades in fact, because I want to unify the world with art. I believe the abstract is a common language, especially elemental abstraction, influenced of course by the minimalism that started in Russia during the revolution with the suprematists.
"One day I tried my first figurative painting since the 1960s, when I was a student in London. But it was very easy, very natural. I thought it was like riding a bike, you never forget" said Scully in his perfect Spanish, the result of his long relationship with Spain that has led him to have one of his studios in Barcelona. "Originally I was thinking of painting, I don't know, four, five or six, but in the end I did 24," he explained.
"You can see that each figure is surrounded by a line," said Scully about the paintings in 'Eleuthera'. "It's like a protection made by children. It is something natural, a place, a territory, a home, a place where we can live. Of course I paint lineally, but in the end it is important to note that my work, or the image, has body, because that is crucial. I have had a very strong relationship with the painting of Europe, especially Spain, for many years. In painting in Spain you can see there is a great sense of the body, a great sense of weight. I have the same sensation in my work. It's also important to note that it would be more or less impossible for a figurative painter to paint the way I do. I think the past with minimalism and abstraction is very important when returning to the figurative. The journey influeces the picture, which is now a mixture of abstaction and figuration because it is not realism, it is very subjective, very emotional with a strong sense of the material".
Painting for intimate subjects
The curator of the exhibition, Elisabeth Dutz, of the Albertina Museum, also referred to Scully's long career at the official opening. "Sean Scully has worked with nothing but abstraction for 50 years. So why has he turned to the figurative now? Because when he watched his son Oisín playing happily on the beach on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, it awakened in him a desire to paint that idyllic scene. Also, he wanted to leave his son something that wasn't abstract. He turned that idea over and over in his head and when he finished one of his abstract paintings he changed tack and started to paint figuratively. He still paints abstracts and also does his sculptures. It is the style of painting sused for intimate, emotional subjects. That way he can express himself figuratively and continue with the abstract at the same time," she explained.
With this exhibition by Scully, which can be seen at the CAC until 19 January, the art centre is returning to two of the strategic lines it has always followed. One is the presence of a top name in contemporary art, and the other is to promote painting on the contemporary art scene.
Both of these apply to Scully's work, and at the launch of the exhibition he was described by the acting artistic director of the CAC, Helena Juncosa, as "one of the most outstanding figures on the international art scene, who in this case has surprised us with his latest work".
It is a work which also shows here its own trajectory, with the photos and sketches which preceded the large oil paintings and the paintings on aluminium which form part of the exhibition.
The new contract for the CAC has been signed for five years, and the Scully exhibition marks the start of this latest stage of its existence. Malaga's councillor for Culture, Noelia Losada, reflected at the launch that "the CAC Malaga brand is one of the signs of the city's identity. From now on I hope that we will continue to see the same high standards of art which this benchmark centre has always provided for us, and which reinforces the cultural image of Malaga".