The Ingleby Gallery’s and per se and exhibition series seeks to directly present and juxtapose the works of various pairs of artists over a twelve month period, with a bi-weekly change to the line-up. For the twentieth instalment, a piece from Turner-prize nominated artist Sean Scully’s ‘Wall of Light’ oeuvre is coupled with ‘Celtic Head of a Man’.
Upon first sight, there appear to be few immediate comparisons between Scully’s ‘Blue Blue’ and a 2,000 year old carving of a man’s head. The painting is oblique in its geometric pattern of rectangles, interlocking in cool tones of navy, blue and white. Conversely the head, though perhaps not hyper-realistic, is familiar and recognisably human.
Yet there are also elements that bind these two pieces. Hailing from the land of saints and scholars, Scully has often spoken about the influence the checked landscape and people of his native Ireland have had on his work. Indeed, the patchwork ‘Blue Blue’ and his other pieces recall the cloak of Kilbridian Saint Brigid. In this, Scully has a shared history with the Celtic sculpture, made as it was by the ancient peoples of Ireland who informed so much of its culture, history and language.
Gradually other connections become apparent. There is a certain warmth present in ‘Blue Blue’ and ‘Celtic Head of a Man’. Both the time-worn limestone and the strokes of oil on linen are invitingly textured. The expression of the carving is somehow endearing, with its too-close-together eyes and kind mouth and nose. There are flashes of vibrant red showing through the gaps in ‘Blue Blue’, suggesting the possibility of heat and vitality, a connection to something past, now painted over, just as the head suggests a body and a living man.
However and per se and is also flawed. The space in which the pieces are displayed is stark and bare, the walls and floors painted in cool grey shades. This coldness drags the works down, making them appear more sombre than perhaps they ought to. ‘Blue Blue’ hangs on the opposite wall to ‘Celtic Head of a Man’ but is not centrally facing it. Frustratingly, this makes it feel as though they are merely two pieces displayed in the room, negating the entire purpose of the exhibition. A direct comparison would help to create more tension and conflict between them. Sadly this opportunity for a more interesting and profound comparison has been missed.
Photo credit: Sean Scully/ Ingleby Gallery