Sean Scully: TriptychsSean Scully: Triptychs

Early Works 1975–86

Over the last 40 years Sean Scully has evolved an abstract painterly language in which he has frequently returned to the triptych format. A triptych can relate to anything divided into three sections, but in Western art history it has primarily been associated with religious altarpieces from artists such as Giotto and Duccio onwards. Scully has not embraced the form for its narrative or hierarchical possibilities, but instead because of its psychological structure and the underlying emotional relationships and spiritual resonances that it can suggest. He describes it as "the other relationship, the number three, which seems to have sacred, mystical implications for us, not least because it gives us relief from the mirror - the simple reflected self."

In the early 1980s, Scully was profoundly affected by the experience of seeing Duccio's ‘Maesta’ (1308) in Sienna, an image of the Madonna and child surrounded by the saints, and he subsequently painted an abstract homage made of three panels of unequal width. After the death of his son Scully made a painting that takes refuge in what he sees as the mystic power of the triptych and its ability to give form and place to his sorrow. This room presents paintings and drawings created between 1975 and 1986, revealing his move from hard-edged geometric studies reflecting the language of Minimalism to physical constructions that engage with the tactility of paint and surface.