|Soulages Museum, Rodex, France|
The soon to be open Soulages Museum at Rodez in the Pyrenees, is preparing for a major retrospective of the eminent French post war master of abstraction. This is a great place to explore the master of abstraction at his hometown. Soulages is very unrepresented in Britain, it's about time the Tate a retrospective on him, to me he has a much more sensitive touch than any of the American abstract painters that have had major retrospectives and at 95 he's still significant.
The following is an extract from The Telegraph newspaper on the retrospective he had at Centre Pompidou in 2009:
"It is touching to see 63 years of my work brought together," said Soulages, a big slow-moving man dressed, appropriately and as per usual, in black at a pre-launch tour of the canvases. "But I don't much like the word 'retrospective'," he added. "I am still painting, I have works drying in the studio."
Soulages, who works in southern France in a studio looking out over the sparkling Mediterranean, is famously known for switching direction halfway through his career to emphasise how light is reflected from the colour black - a concept he calls "ultra black", or outrenoir. Using thick layers of black paint, he scrapes and digs and etches using bits of rubber, spoons or tiny rakes to create smooth and rough textures that absorb or reject light, subtly changing monotonous black.
|Pierre Soulages 'Peinture; 260 x 202 cm; 19 juin 1963', Oil on canvas|
Collection Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Diffusion RMN
© VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2010
"I was always interested in black, even as a child," he said. "I used black paint and when someone asked what I was painting I said 'snow'. I think with hindsight that I used black to make the paper look more white."
"At home I have an outrenoir canvas facing the sea that changes colour according to the weather," he added. "I have even seen it turn blue."
"Ultra-black is like another country," Soulages said. Black had been an obsession with artists since the dawn of humanity, he said. "Why did people in prehistoric times draw in black inside dark black caves when they could've used chalk?"
|Pierre Soulages 'Brou de noix sur papier' 1946 48 x 62,5 cm|
Private collection © Photo: DR, Archive Soulages / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2010
Works by Soulages, who in 2001 became the first living painter to be given an exhibition by the Hermitage in St Petersburg, never have titles, instead being named by size and date of production. Born in southern France, he began painting in his teens, showing his first works after the war in 1947 when friends such as Hans Hartung and Francis Picabia were dabbling in reds and blues and yellows. Soulages instead opted for the walnut stain used on furniture to create geometric works on paper or canvas, and even tried daubings of dark tar on glass for a time. At 33 his work was shown at the Venice Biennale and he held his first solo New York exhibition just two years later.
Through the years black featured heavily in his works but it was not until 1979 that he switched course to the huge outrenoir canvases of the last three decades. "My work has changed," he said. "What you see here we chose from 2,000 works."
"I think I make paintings so that those who look at them, myself like everybody else, can find themselves in front of them, alone with themselves," he once said.
|Pierre Soulages 'Peinture 324 x 181 cm, 17 novembre 2008' Acrylic on canvas|
Private collection © Photo: George Poncet, Archive Soulages / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2010