Powerfully physical, Scully’s works have special and personal significance for the artist, as he uses a limited range of formal devices such as stripes and blocks to convey his responses to his environment. A trip to Morocco in 1969 inspired the artist to compose works that incorporated the bright lights of Northern Africa and the stripes of local textiles. After coming to America in 1972, Scully retained the stripes of his earlier work, but he simplified them: Moroccan color gave way to almost monochromatic paintings. While his works from the 60s and 70s seem to have an optimistic quality, his works of the early 1980s are subdued in coloring and mood, reflecting his personal misfortunes, such as the death of his son in 1983.
Red and Red (1986) contains four panels, emphasizing the painting’s physicality as a three-dimensional object. In the 1980s Scully began experimenting with architectural composition, permitting him to break out of the two-dimensional picture plane, creating asymmetrical assemblages that take on a sculptural quality as they project forward into space. Scully combines horizontal and vertical stripes; black and white horizontal bands are juxtaposed with brick-red vertical stripes, calling attention to the tensions between them and their interplay, but achieving a very precise balance within the work. Thick brushstrokes, rhythmic and energetic, animate the surface and remind the viewer of the artist’s active presence.
Executed while Scully was living in New York, Red and Red marks a period that included paintings that suggest mysterious formal and emotional relationships, merging construction and painting. The reds here are both broken apart as separate forms but reunified through the brushstroke. With an interest in creating an apparent depth of paint, he applies multiple layers of color in dynamic brushstrokes that enliven the surfaces; as the layers build up, a sense of background and foreground develops. Scully was inspired by Mark Rothko’s atmospheric use of layered color, the way the separations between blocks of color reveal the space and color underneath. In Red and Red the underlying layers show through the joins between the blocks or stripes and in the broken brushstrokes of the surface.
The Phillips Collection’s Red and Red is the second Scully painting acquired by a museum in the United States. The work fits well into the collection, as Scully’s in deeply affecting abstract paintings, with their active surfaces and lambent color, embody the painterly qualities so beautifully represented in The Phillips Collection.