Going back to black with French painter Pierre Soulages

PIERRE SOULAGES Christelle FAUX - 03.06.2013

This article is in English. Click here to read this article in French.

“Why black? Because.”

Such was Pierre Soulages’ response when he was asked about the use of black in his artwork. From a very young age, the colour black has fascinated him. Strangely, Soulages sees light in this colour and tries to convey this to others through his work.

Soulages, understated and prevailing at 93, has seen success come from his gamble on using black so extensively. He named this ‘Outrenoir’ [Beyond black]. From a grey-black to a deep black, the artist knew how to master and use black to create light. Overwhelming the art world, the locals of Rodez (Soulages’ hometown) will pay homage to his name with a new museum (May 2014).

Not an ordinary French painter

EXPOSITION MAC VAL Christelle Faux - 03.06.2013
Pierre Soulages was born in the south of France in 1919 and has been interested in art since his early childhood.

It was during a school visit to the abbey-church of Conques that Soulages’ passion for art was first realised.

Some years later, in the 1930s, Soulages was accepted at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris. However, this was short lived, as Soulages was disappointed with the old fashioned style of teaching.

It was not until 1946 that Soulages devoted himself to painting. He then started to paint abstract canvases, using a small colour palette of mainly blacks and blues.

Soulages also used unusual painting techniques, forgetting traditional paintbrushes and opting for decorative brushes and mixing his own colours.

Judged a rebel during the interwar period when paintings were then very colourful, Soulages’ work was at first very criticised.

French painter Piciabia even said, “You are going to make many enemies”. However, Pierre Soulages is today, more than ever, at the forefront in his field and his ‘beyond black’ approach continues to captivate.

French painter of dark and light

DARK SILENCE Christelle Faux – 03.06.13

In 1979, ‘Beyond black’ came to life.

After a long night of work, painting and playing with material, Soulages, the next morning, discovered an impressive effect of his work: the creation of a new style in which dark became light.

Created through light effects and small nicks in the material, this effect was called ‘beyond black’.

The same year, Soulages displayed his single colour canvases at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

In 1987, Soulages was commissioned the work of stained glass windows at the abbey-church of Conques: a special place for him. The work was completed in 1994 with the help of the Jean-Dominique Fleury workshop.

Since then, canvases have been shown in various museums such as the State Hermitage at St. Petersburg (Museum of Art and Culture) and the Fabre museum in Montpellier.

In 2009, the Pompidou centre honoured Soulages the highest honour for any then living modern artist.

A true acknowledgment to the reserved modern artist’s work is that we will soon be able to enjoy it in Rodez.

South of France honours Soulages

RODEZ Christelle Faux - 23.06.13

The people of Rodez wish to dedicate a museum to Soulages in his hometown.

This museum will house the largest Soulages collection in the world. More than 500 works will be on display, recounting the working years of the artist.

The museum intends to extend the museum by an extra 500m² to accommodate other artists’ work.

Translation by Esme Wakefield.
References :
1. “Pierre Soulages, peintre sinon rien ! “
2. Site officiel de Pierre Soulages
3. Biographie de Pierre Soulages
4. Livre «  Soulages » par Alfred Pacquement & Pierre Encrevé – 10/ 2009
5. Film «  Pierre Soulages – Noir Lumière » – Film de Reiner Moritz ( 1997)
Image credits:
1. Pierre Soulages à Lyon, via Design Party.

2. Exposition MAC/VAL Pierre Soulages, by ManuB. via Flickr.

. Dark Silence, by chieroz via Flickr.
Rodez, Grands Sites de Midi-Pyrenees viaFlickr.

About the Contributor

Christelle Faux

Originaire de Toulouse, c’est suite à mes études de commerce que j’ai décidé de m’orienter vers la communication et plus particulièrement le journalisme. Passionnée de voyage, de mode et d’art, c’est à travers mes articles que je souhaite partager avec vous mes découvertes et coups de cœur. Suivez-moi sur Instagram.

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One Comment

  1. Alex Mottershead Sep 24, 2013 at 10:48 PM - Reply

    I must admit that Soulages isn’t an artist which I’d heard of.
    After reading this article I have spent an awful lot of time googling pictures of his work. It’s easy to see why people believed he was a ‘rebel’!
    It’s really interesting to see his work – and even more interesting to think about the turnaround in opinions – from an outcast to in the early 20th century to someone honoured with a museum!

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