Dots, Blocks and Colour

The image above is one outcome of some extensive experiments I have been carrying out over the last year or so with my watercolour paints.

I am quite pleased with the final effect achieved.  I particularly like the many variations of colour and have found that by photographing them the back lighting effect of a digital screen has allowed  the translucency and vividness to be kept. These lively qualities in watercolour are unfortunately often lost because as the paint dries it becomes significantly dulled.

I layered the colours so that they take on quite subtle variations and this is a technique that I was also came across quite recently in the work of Sean Scully. However his work is mainly in oils and on a colossal scale – certainly in comparison to my  small scale efforts.

More colours using a cooler palette range

Sean Scully’s experiments in the  ‘abstraction of colour’ have been a lifetime’s work.  He has continued – doggedly and stubbornly, against all the odds – to follow his mission of examining the minutiae of  different colour effects through both layering and juxtaposition.

It was perhaps Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) who first began to look at painting and colour as analogous to music.  In music we are quite used to our emotions being stirred by notes and sounds; and it is in a similar way that our feelings can also be affected by the visual forms and colours within a painting.  This new and revolutionary idea involved stripping away the realistic pictorial elements of paintings and replacing them with abstract non representational forms.

Kazimir Malevich (1878 – 1935) is another significant abstract artist who further developed these ideas but he had his own emphasis and his paintings are particularly characterised by radiating and strikingly bold coloured geometric forms.

However, in Scully’s work the abstraction mainly consists of exploring variations of blocks and stripes of seemingly single colours and it is perhaps best understood  in the context of  work begun by Paul Klee,  developed  by Mark Rothko and then further progressed by Jasper Johns.  Other notable artists that have influenced his work include Matisse and Mondrian.

He has an extensive body of work which is only just beginning to be properly appreciated and recognised here in the UK,  although he has long been established in New York – which has been  his home since the mid 1970’s.

Scully has also more recently exhibited at the 2015 Venice Biennale. This  5 minute video was produced by The Royal Academy, UK, and  not only shows an interview with Scully RA but also tours his Venice exhibition and shows the paintings insitu.

These stunning paintings can also be seen in a recently published book  called “Sean Scully Land Sea” which is  beautifully produced. It shows wonderfully well his paintings whose inspiration are Venice itself and its canals – they were produced especially for the 56th Biennale. The photographs  of the paintings within the book are as displayed on the gallery walls of a magnificent, light-filled and luminous Venetian Palazzo.

( The book does not seem to be that widely available and I should point out that the customer reviews relate to a different book altogether – his black and white photographs of Aran – which also seems interesting but looks as if it will be tricky to track down ! )

There are also a number of interesting videos which can be found  via the internet which explain his work and follow his life story. I have selected, below, a few ‘choice’ representative samples to give an idea of what can be found with just a little bit of searching.

The first is called “Sean Scully -American Beauty” and lasts for just over half an hour.  It is an objective biographical account which traces Sean’s personal history, from his birth in 1945, then relates his childhood experiences and follows on with his development as a successful artist. The film was made in 2000 and it is well worth watching. ( Note: to see at full screen you may need to do a separate search – which will be worthwhile to see the detail – ditto the other videos below too !)

This second video which is around 5 mins in length is a tour around  some of his early paintings that were exhibited in Bern in 2012.  Sean gives quite detailed descriptions of how they were achieved together with their context.  He describes how his ideas have developed and also the techniques employed to achieve particular effects.

The third video I have selected is interesting because it follows the painting process from the start of a blank canvas through to it’s completion. The painting is relatively small so the video is a  shortish 10 mins in length. It is called The Opposite Ways Testigo – The Witness and was made by Robert Gardner in 1997.

Here also is a further link to a review from  ‘The Art Newspaper’ by Pac Pobric in May 2015, it gives details and updates about the background to his more recent work.

( I will find these links  a useful resources for me to return too when I get a bit stuck or doubtful about what I am doing and I hope you will find them helpful too ! )


Simon & Garfunkel sing ‘America’. The song was written in 1972 by Paul Simon.

The image at the top of is a photograph by myself of a watercolour painting also by myself.


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