Art News

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Presents New Works by Sean Scully & John Walker

artwork: Sean Scully - "Cut Ground Red Blue", 2009 - Oil on linen - 110" x 161 1/4" - Courtesy the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. On view in "Modern Masters: New Painting by Sean Scully and John Walker" until November 27th.

Richmond, VA.- The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is proud to present “Modern Masters: New Painting by Sean Scully and John Walker”, on view at the museum through November 27th. This exhibition features monumental paintings by two of today’s most accomplished painters, Sean Scully and John Walker. Promised gifts from Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr. on the occasion of VMFA’s 75th anniversary, these works affirm the unique capacity of paint to evoke the immateriality of light. Rounding out the exhibition are a suite of twelve photographs by Scully and four other recent paintings by Walker. “Modern Masters: New Paintings by Sean Scully and John Walker” is organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and curated by John B. Ravenal, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. All works are either promised gifts or loans from Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr.

Sean Scully, born in Ireland in 1945, and John Walker, born in England in 1939, are both longtime residents of the United States and are among today’s most accomplished painters. While these artists do not usually exhibit together, their works are both featured here by the happy circumstance of promised gifts by Richmond collectors Pam and Bill Royall. These generous donors have offered Walker’s North Branch II and Sean Scully’s Cut Ground Red Blue to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in recognition of the museum’s 75th anniversary. Each of these monumental works exemplifies the artists’ dedication to the nuances, traditions and paradoxes of painting. And each suffuses abstract forms with references to the visible world of landscapes, man-made structures and light. Walker’s “North Branch II”, along with his three other recent paintings in the exhibition, reflects a love for the Maine coast.  During the past decade, he has drawn inspiration from a tidal cove at Seal Point near the Damariscotta River. Often created outdoors, his canvases respond to the landscape and its changing atmosphere by incorporating references to water, clouds, rainbows, trees and earth. He even uses actual mud from the cove, and the rough texture provides a dynamic gestural presence offering a stark contrast to prismatic strokes of bright color that conjure the ethereal nature of light.

Through such means, Walker’s paintings balance realistic landscapes with painterly abstraction, attending equally to space and surface. Scully’s “Cut Ground Red Blue” builds on his interest in architecture. Scully was first inspired to paint geometric units of color during a 1972 trip to Morocco, where the stripes and bands of carpets and tents left a strong impression on him. After visiting Mexico in the early 1980s, he transformed his stripes into bricks of color. Over time, his stroke has softened, revealing underlayers of paint and infusing his minimalist, abstract images with a humanistic touch that expresses a wide range of emotions and ideas. The exhibition also includes a suite of twelve photographs that Scully made in the Dominican Republic showing brightly painted shacks. Scully began taking photographs in 1979 but only began exhibiting them in the late 1990s. Although the photographs do not serve as models for his paintings, Scully’s focus on the doors and surrounding wood clapboards of dwellings parallel the compositions of his paintings to a remarkable degree and reflect some of the same interests in light, architecture, pattern, weathering, and the handmade.

artwork: John Walker - "North branch II", 2009 - Oil and mud on canvas - Overall: 84" x 216" - Courtesy the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

In the midst of the Great Depression, on January 16, 1936, Virginia’s political and business leaders bravely demonstrated their faith in the future and their belief in the value of art by opening the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. The English Renaissance-style headquarters building was designed by Peebles and Ferguson Architects of Norfolk. The museum’s first addition was built in 1954 by Merrill C. Lee, Architects, of Richmond. By the mid 1960s, additional gallery space was again desperately needed. The museum’s second addition, the South Wing, was designed by Baskervill & Son Architects of Richmond. It featured four new permanent galleries and a large gallery for loan exhibitions, as well as a new library, photography lab, art storage rooms and staff offices. As more exhibition space and visitor services were needed, a third addition, the North Wing, designed by Hardwicke Associates, Inc., Architects, of Richmond, was completed in 1976. It added three more gallery areas (two for loan exhibitions and one for the Sydney and Frances Lewis Art Nouveau Collection) as well as a new sculpture garden with a cascading fountain. In December 1985, the museum opened its fourth addition, the West Wing. It now houses the Mellon collections, consisting of major examples of French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and British Sporting art (which was permanently given to the museum in 1983); the Lewis Contemporary art collections; and the outstanding Lewis collections of Art Nouveau and Art Deco furniture, glass and other decorative arts. The West Wing was designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates of New York. The museum has assembled a wide-ranging collection of world art characterized by great breadth and exceptional aesthetic quality. It includes significant holdings of Classical and African art, paintings by European masters such as Nicolas Poussin, Francisco Goya, Michel Delacroix and Claude Monet, and American masters such as John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer, one of the world’s leading collections of Indian and Himalayan art, an internationally important collection of fine English silver, unequaled holdings of Art Nouveau and Art Deco furniture, ceramics, glass and jewelry, a dynamic collection of Modern and Contemporary art, a popular collection of Fabergé imperial jeweled objects and noted holdings of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, including original waxes and bronzes by Edgar Degas. In 2003, a year after its selection of London-based architect Rick Mather, VMFA unveiled a master plan for a $100-million building expansion and transformation of its 13 1/2-acre campus. Mather’s design will provide Virginians with a work of contemporary architecture that will display more fully the museum’s extensive collection of world art. His virtuoso handling of transparency and natural light will function as both a tool and a metaphor to open the museum to its surroundings and create an inspiring atmosphere in which to view art. Visit the mueum’s website at …