Born in Dublin in 1945, Scully moved to London with his family at age four. He attended the Central School of Art (1962–65), and the Croydon College of Art (1965-68) both in London, before studying at Newcastle University (1968–72) and Harvard University (1972–73).
In the early 1970s, Scully’s paintings mostly consisted of geometrical compositions made of colourful grids overlaying each other. He moved to New York in 1975, and it was there that Scully changed the paradigm of abstraction, by abandoning the reduced vocabulary of Minimalism that had many critics pronouncing ‘the death of painting’. This breakthrough was achieved in 1981 and 1982 with a series of paintings such as ‘Backs and Fronts’, ‘Heart of Darkness’ and ‘Falling Wrong’. It is their tightly compressed materiality, their collision of objectness with bravura painting, that provided the bridge from Minimalism to Expressionism.
In the late 1990s, Scully began to develop his seminal ‘Wall of Light’ body of work that encompasses several of the artist’s leitmotifs. It is a reflection on light in relation to architecture, a philosophical approach to existence and knowledge, but also a tectonic study about collision and resistance.
Scully has continuously shifted from the early geometrical grids to a much more expressive style, proving his ability to explore in-depth a somewhat narrow formal lexicon and constantly renew it over his career. For instance, the ‘Landline’ paintings, made of thick colour stripes painted in dramatic brushstrokes, offer a strong contrast with paintings from the Eighties. Since 2016, Scully’s approach has been expanding towards figuration with the ‘Eleuthera’ and the ‘Madonna’ series, in which a vivid colour palette shapes intimate family portraits. These draw from a variety of influences, such as Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Egon Schiele and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, that redefined European aesthetics at the beginning of the 20th century.
In his sculptural work Scully explores the same leitmotifs as in painting – shape, light, saturation and void. Playing with a vast array of materials, such as stone, steel, wood, felt or glass, he creates monolithic works that build on the compression of space, and in so doing confront the viewer with their own spatial awareness. He develops his three-dimensional approach mostly in vertical and horizontal structures, the former in terms of ‘Stacks’ and ‘Towers’ – piling up similar elements – and the latter through ‘Walls of Light’ and ‘Boxes of Air’, monumental works that experiment on a very large scale.
Scully’s works have been extensively presented in solo exhibitions across several continents, most recently at the MAMbo - Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, Italy (2022); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia(2022); Centre of Contemporary Art In Torun, Poland (2022); the Benaki Museum, Athens (2021); the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (2021); the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest (2020); Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice (2019); the Albertina, Vienna (2019); the LWL Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Münster (2019); the National Gallery of Art, London (2019); the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield (2018); the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington DC (2018); Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe (2018); the State Russian Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg (2018); the Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing (2015); the Himalayas Museum, Shanghai (2014); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2006), amongst other institutions.