Sean Scully brings stone and steel to Yorkshire Sculpture Park

A major exhibition of the sculpture and paintings of artist Sean Scully opened recently at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Yvette Huddleston takes a look

Sean Scullys Crate of Air (2018) at YSP. (Picture: James Hardisty).
Sean Scullys Crate of Air (2018) at YSP. (Picture: James Hardisty).

One of the most exciting aspects of exhibitions at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) is seeing the way in which different artists respond to its unique space.

It has inspired some truly magnificent work and the latest exhibition is a case in point. Inside Outside is an extensive showcase of the work of British artist Sean Scully. The show – in the Longside Gallery and the open air – features recent paintings and works on paper and, significantly, new sculptures made especially for YSP using locally-sourced stone and steel. One of the leading abstract painters of his generation, Scully was born in Dublin in 1945 and grew up in south London in a working class family where money was often scarce. “He speaks very openly about his background and how his childhood was sometimes quite tough,” says curator Louise Hutchinson. “There is always a real sense of his biography in his work. His painting is a very physical process – there is a lot of layering – and he talks about the paintings reflecting very much how he feels in the moment.”

There is certainly a palpable honesty and authenticity about his work. One of the sculptures, Coin Stack, recalls the stack of coins his barber father used to make out of his tips and in a side room of the gallery, displaying drawings and prints, is a touching poem which relates to this. Stacking, lines and stripes are frequent components of Scully’s work. “They have featured in his work since he was at university, the kind of patterns you might see in fabric,” says Hutchinson. “He used to darn the socks for his family and that inspired some of his early works. Since then you see grids, lines and stripes recurring.”

The stripe appeals, he has said, because it is something upon which a multitude of meanings or moods can be projected. This comes across well in the recent painting Blue Note (2016) which takes up an entire wall in the Longside. Made up of six striped panels, it is a tribute to jazz – the title refers to the famous American record label. “Sean talks a lot about how music and rhythm are important to his work,” says Hutchinson. “He always has music on in his studio, particularly jazz.”

Possibly the most extraordinary work in the exhibition is Wall Dale Cubed, on display in the Lower Park and one of several new pieces Scully made for the show. To describe it as ‘large-scale’ is to do it an injustice – this is monumental sculpture, solid, immovable, and it fits perfectly into the landscape of the Park. It makes obvious references to dry stone walls, so much a part of the countryside in this part of the world, but equally it could be a piece of Stonehenge-style prehistoric architecture or even an ancient Inca temple. It is breathtaking and allows your imagination to run away with you.

“It is made of 13,000 tonnes of Yorkshire stone and it took two months to build,” says Hutchinson. “It was a long, intense and very physical process. Sean sent drawings to the stoneworking team and he made several visits.”

The other large-scale work on dispaly in the parkland is Crate of Air. Made of Corten steel, it is the size of a large shipping container and the rusty colour, which will continue to change in the elements, works so well at the moment against a backdrop of autumnal colours.

“Sean has shown such ambition in what he wanted to create,” says Hutchinson. “He took the opportunity to do something really quite special here.”

To January 6, 2019.