Sean Scully was born in 1945 in Ireland, but was raised and educated in London. From 1960 to 1962 he apprenticed at a commercial printing shop in London and in 1962 he began attending evening classes at the Central School of Art. In 1965 Scully began studies at the Croydon College of Art, where he became interested in the works of Emil Nolde, Karl Schmidt- Rottluff, Henri Matisse and van Gogh. In 1968 he undertook a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. After graduating with First Class Honors, he took a position as a teacher’s assistant, while also teaching one day a week at the Sunderland College of Art.
In 1969 Scully visitied Morocco and in 1970 he was awarded the Stuyvesant Foundation Prize. He made his first visit to the United States in 1972, staying at the Visual Arts Center at Harvard University. During this time he was awarded the Frank Knox Fellowship. In 1973 Scully returned to England and had his first exhibition at the Rowan Gallery in London. From 1973 to 1975 he taught at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and Goldsmith’s College of Art and Design in London.
Scully moved to New York in 1975 and was immediately influenced by the geometric and color field painters who were working there at the time. Some of Scully’s greatest influences were Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko. In 1977 he had his first solo exhibition in New York at the Duffy-Gibbs Gallery. Scully began teaching part-time at Princeton University and in 1978 he married painter, Catherine Lee. In 1980, Scully and his wife had their first joint exhibition in the Andreas Stucken Alternative Art Gallery at the Museum für SubKultur in Berlin. In the year that followed, Scully had his first retrospective, which opened at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and traveled within the United Kingdom and Ireland.
During the early 1980s Scully was a Professor at the Parsons School of Art in New York. He spent part of his summers working at the artist’s colony founded by Edward Albee on Long Island. In 1983 Scully collaborated with etcher, Mohammad Khalil, prefiguring a long-term commitment to printmaking using a number of different graphic techniques. Scully was awarded the Artist’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984 and, in the year that followed, he had his first solo exhibition in an American museum at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1989 he had his first solo exhibition in a European museum, traveling from London, to Spain, then Munich.
In 2000, Scully was named an Honorary Fellow of the London Institute of Arts and Letters and in 2001 he became a member of Aosdána, an Irish affiliation of artists engaged in literature, music and the visual arts. In 2002 Scully began working as a part- time Professor of Painting at Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich and in 2003 he received Honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and the National University of Ireland in Dublin. A retrospective of Scully’s work was held at the Sara Hilden Art Museum in Tampere, Finland. Most recently, Scully has lived and worked in Barcelona, New York and Mooseurach, Germany.