Scully was born in Dublin in 1945, and grew up in the south of London, where his family moved in 1949. He began painting in the late 1960s, and moved to New York City in 1975; he became an American citizen in 1983. Scully has shown extensively, both nationally and internationally, including, most recently, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art the Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz, Linz, Austria and Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern, Switzerland.
Sean Scully is known for rich, painterly abstractions in which stripes or blocks of layered color are a prevailing motif. The delineated geometry of his work provides structure for an expressive, physical rendering of color, light, and texture. Scully’s simplification of his compositions and use of repetitive forms—squares, rectangles, bands—echoes architectural motifs (doors, windows, walls) and in this way appeals to a universal understanding and temporal navigation of the picture plane. However, the intimacy of Scully’s process, in which he layers and manipulates paint with varying brushstrokes and sensibilities, results in a highly sensual and tactile materiality. His colors and their interactions, often subtly harmonized, elicit profound emotional associations. Scully does not shy away from Romantic ideals and the potential for personal revelation. He strives to combine, as he has said, “intimacy with monumentality.”