Sean Scully was born in Dublin, Ireland on June 30, 1945. His family moved to the south of London in 1949, where he apprenticed at a commercial print shop and graphic design studio in high school. Scully attended evening classes at the Central School of Art, London between 1962-1965 before dedicating himself entirely to art studies at the Croydon College of Art, London, which he attended from 1965-1968, and Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, from 1968-1972.
A trip to Morocco in 1969 marked a decisive turning point in his artistic career: Scully was highly inspired by the southern light of Morocco and the stripes used in traditional textiles. These two qualities, a sensitivity to light and a dedication to stripes as a formal technique, would remain central to Scully’s paintings throughout his career. In 1972, Scully was awarded the Frank Knox Fellowship to attend Harvard University, where he encountered American Minimalism for the first time. Scully achieved commercial success in London in the early 1970s with his technically virtuosic paintings of brightly colored, hard-edged bands and lines that reveal the influence of Minimalism and Op Art.
Scully relocated to New York City in 1975 for a professorship at Parsons School of Art. His move into a former textile factory in Tribeca prompted a sculptural turn in his work. He repurposed boards found in his studio to create deep stretcher frames painted on the fronts and sides, combining multiple canvases of varying sizes into single pictures. In these paintings his lines became less rigid and his color palette more complex as he layered pigments with looser brushwork, injecting romantic expression into his abstractions. He continued in this mode throughout the 1980s, and received critical acclaim in solo exhibitions in the United States and in Europe by the end of the decade.