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Pierre Soulages
Pierre Soulages, 1919
Pierre Soulages (b. 1919, Rodez, France) is a French artist internationally celebrated for his meditations on the properties of darkness and light in the form of abstract paintings.

As a child in Rodez, France, Soulages was fascinated by the stone monoliths and other archaeological artifacts displayed at the local natural history museum, the Musée Fenaille. Deeply influenced by the concept of prehistoric men painting on the walls of caves, prehistoric art became his main source of visual inspiration.

Soulages moved to Paris at the age of eighteen, where he practiced as an artist until he was drafted into military service in Montpellier at the start of World War II. Following the war Soulages returned to Paris, where he opened a studio and held his first exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants in 1947.

Black, manipulated both as a medium and tool, is the essential foundation of Soulages’ work. His enormous oeuvre, a large proportion of which is housed in Rodez’ devoted Soulages Museum, is united by his fascination for the changing appearance of black in light. Since the beginnings of his career as an artist Soulages has consistently been drawn to the reflective and absorptive qualities of black paint. Soulages began exploring the relationship between black and light in the 1940s in the form of boldly gestural abstract paintings . In 1979, Soulages began to forgo colour entirely in favour of thickly encrusted all-black paintings that he calls ‘ultra black’ or outrenoir. Since then, Soulages has worked exclusively in black. Rejecting traditional painting equipment, Soulages frequently uses wood panels, cardboard and miscellaneous objects from his studio to apply, scrape and hatch paint into defined areas of the canvas. On the genesis of his signature style, Soulages once remarked: ‘I found that the light reflected by the black surface elicits certain emotions in me. These aren’t monochromes. The fact that light can come from the color which is supposedly the absence of light is already quite moving, and it is interesting to see how this happens. I realized I needed to find a word that could convey the mental field opened up by these paintings.’

In celebration of the artist’s 100th birthday in 2019, the Louvre honoured the French painter with a solo show. Significantly, the only other artists given this privilege during their lifetimes have been Picasso and Chagall. Soulages has been the subject of dozens of major retrospectives held at institutions across the world, including the National Art Museum of China, Beijing; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Museum of Fine Arts, Bern; Taipei Fine Arts Museum; and The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul.

In addition to the Musée Soulages in Rodez, France, where a comprehensive selection of his works are permanently held, Soulages’ work is held in numerous public collections internationally, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; Tate, London; The Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro.
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Pierre Soulages – Timothy Taylor