Artist Sean Scully talks personal taste

The painter loves Bill Murray’s low-key style and Lana Del Rey tunes – and eagerly awaits the arrival of a hydrogen car on the market. Portraits by Jody Rogac

Sean Scully in his studio
Sean Scully in his studio | Image: Jody Rogac

My personal style signifier is a pair of black leather Ecco shoes. I can do anything in these slip-ons: run, walk, work out, paint – and they even look good for social occasions. While other people fumble with their shoes in airport security, I speed through. ecco.com

The last thing I bought and loved was a painting by Marie Lucas-Robiquet. I was at Bonhams to ID an artwork that had been stolen from me, when I saw this wonderful painting of two children in the French countryside. I loved it so much I decided to bid on it right then and there, and it now hangs in our hallway. bonhams.com.

His studio
His studio | Image: Jody Rogac

On my wishlist is a hydrogen car. I’m waiting for these environmentally conscious cars to come onto the market – we all need to do our part to leave the planet better for our children. I’m big into recycling. I actually found my favourite armchair by the side of the road. It’s in the middle of my studio and when I am painting, I will sit here for a while to think and absorb my work in progress.

The work of art that changed everything was Picasso’s Child with a Dove. It literally saved my life. I went to a terrible school in south London and there was a copy of this painting hanging in the assembly hall. It is so peaceful – it was very moving and inspirational for me.

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A recent “find” is Finnegan’s of Dalkey, a beautiful pub on the outskirts of Dublin with a great atmosphere. The lighting, the old world feel and the food are all excellent. I recommend their fish pie with chips at lunch. finnegans.ie.

When I paint, I listen to anything by Brahms and Lana Del Rey, and I recently downloaded the album Aventine by the Danish singer Agnes Obel. She is classically trained and I love the way she fuses highbrow music with pop. Her sound is quite grave and austere. I also like jazz, particularly Miles Davis, and cello music, but in general my playlists tend to be women-centric; my mother was a vaudeville singer, so I am drawn to theatre. 

One of his heritage apple trees
One of his heritage apple trees | Image: Jody Rogac

My style icon is Bill Murray. I like the way he handles himself, never seeking attention and always humble. His clothes are a low-key reflection of his personality.

The best book I’ve read in the past year is Escape from Freedom by philosopher Erich Fromm, which explores the roots of authoritarianism and the rise of democracy. It was originally published in 1941, but it rings just as true today.  

The best book he’s read this year
The best book he’s read this year

The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a Johnston & Murphy blue dress shirt. I bought a few of them as they travel well and fit my body perfectly. They are machine-washable, too, which means I only have to take carry-on luggage. From $99.50; johnstonmurphy.com.  

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Château Lacoste in the south of France. It is the extraordinary vision of Paddy McKillen, with outstanding art, architecture and food. I went recently to see an exhibition of my wife Liliane Tomasko’s paintings and the whole setting was just sublime. chateau‑la-coste.com.

“Untitled” (Your People are the Root of all  Evil) – a wall plaque by Barbara Kruger
“Untitled” (Your People are the Root of all Evil) – a wall plaque by Barbara Kruger | Image: Jody Rogac

And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is a felt tortilla box with felt vegetables on the lid. I bought it for a dollar from an eight-year-old Mexican girl, near Mérida, and keep it in my office in New York.

If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d chooseBerlin. There is a wonderful supermarket called Edeka near Tegel Airport. It’s one of the best in the world, full of the most beautifully displayed organic produce, despite it being in the worst area. For contemporary art I love Kewenig, a gallery that’s set in a historic townhouse, juxtaposed with an electric substation. edeka.dekewenig.com.

Child with a Dove by Picasso
Child with a Dove by Picasso | Image: Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2019

The best gift I’ve given recently was a watercolour of mine to an auction that raised money for a refugee village outside Calais. It is one of my Mirror Images and only 8in x 11in, but it managed $50,000. I also bought a portrait by Chantal Joffe to support this worthy cause. migrateart.com.

And the best gift I’ve received recently is a painted photograph of Lili and I renewing our wedding vows, with our son looking on. It was from Bono who captured the moment and shows me carrying the flowers.

Scully’s felt tortilla box that he bought in Mexico
Scully’s felt tortilla box that he bought in Mexico | Image: Jody Rogac

The gadget I couldn’t do without is my iPhone. It is literally my office. I grew up with no electricity and now have total connectivity wherever I am. I am good with technology, so I even draw on it. apple.com

In my fridge you’ll always find broccoli – I eat it raw or steamed – and all sorts of berries, yoghurt and milk. I am vegetarian, so I tend to go in the fruit and veg direction. I also have organic Pinot Noir on hand – it doesn’t matter what kind.

Scully’s Ecco shoes and salvaged armchair
Scully’s Ecco shoes and salvaged armchair | Image: Jody Rogac

An indulgence I would never forgo is penne with pesto from Il Portico in New York. It’s run by the very nice Pepe, and his pasta is outstanding. ilportico.com.

I have a collection of art – surprise! I particularly love the Hudson River School painters and I have a George Inness that I treasure. I also own pieces by Barbara Kruger and Emily Kngwarreye and photos by Robert Gardner who was director of film study at Harvard when I was there. I have a collection of fruit trees too. This is the first time I’ve lived outside a city and have had the space for a proper garden, so we’ve planted about 30 heritage apple trees, as well as quince trees for making jam and pear trees.

An Oral B Pro 5000 electric toothbrush
An Oral B Pro 5000 electric toothbrush

Objects I would never part with are my Eleuthera paintings: 23 large works featuring my son, aged seven, on the beach in the Bahamas.

The grooming staple I’m never without is my Oral B Pro 5000 electric toothbrush. I use it twice a day and it’s 50 times better than any other. £84.98; boots.com.

Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana Del Rey
Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana Del Rey

If I didn’t live outside New York City, I would live in Königsdorf, just south of Munich. It has views of the mountains in all directions and everything revolves around being outdoors; the lake and the nature reserve are highlights, and the surrounding Bavarian castles and churches are charming. The Beuerberg golf club is particularly nice. golfclub-beuerberg.de.

My favourite room in my house is the dining room. It’s the only room in the house with great light and high ceilings. It’s also a play space – there are tables with my son’s Lego and drawings – and feels warm and communal.

Sean Scully at home outside New York City
Sean Scully at home outside New York City | Image: Jody Rogac

My wellbeing guru is my physician, Dr Michael Salitan. I’ve been seeing him for over 30 years and he’s a friend at this point. He is incredibly well-informed. 589 Broadway, New York (+1212-219 7600). 

My favourite websites and apps are ArtFacts for research and iTunes to create playlists to listen to while I work. 

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The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Picasso. I would buy everything. His work is tactile and life-affirming – I strive for this in my own work.

If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a politician – there is a lot that needs doing. Fascism is a big slug waiting to come out and I’d like to stop it. I also write, so would like to spend more time doing that too.

The site that inspires me is the Mayan city of Uxmal, in Mexico. It has a mystical power I find moving.

The Connaught hotel’s Christmas tree was designed this year by Sean Scully (the-connaught.co.uk).

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