• gerard van weyenbergh

Pierre Soulages, his art + video

In short

He is the undisputed master of black painting, a radical abstraction in the service of matter and light. Pierre Soulages (1919-) is one of the last significant figures of modern art. His work, exhibited around the world, is prolific: more than 1,550 paintings. In the South of France, Rodez created in 2014 a Museum Soulages following his donation of important paintings to the city.

He said

"The more limited the means, the stronger the expression. "

His life

Pierre Soulages was born in Rodez just after the Great War 1914-1918. Very young, while living with his mother and sister, he is very attentive to nature, to the rustic environment that surrounds him. He began to draw when he was not yet nine years old. Keen on archeology, he is attracted by the mystery of old stones and ancestral myths.

At the age of 18, Pierre Soulages went to Paris and joined the École des beaux-arts. He visits the Louvre and discovers the old and modern masters. But academic education bored him, and Soulages returned to his native region.

The artist was only briefly mobilized during the Second World War. The post-war years were essential: settled in the Parisian suburbs, he embarked on the great adventure of abstraction, especially after meeting Sonia Delaunay. Adopting an expressionist gesture, in Hans Hartung's tradition, he uses dark colors that make him stand out among the exhibitors at Parisian Salons. In the 1950s, he exhibited extensively, notably in New York, a hub of modern and abstract trends.

Black is, for Soulages, an obsession and a quest. He radicalized the use of this color in his work at the end of the 1970s. The light, reflecting on the surface, plays a predominant place in this work where the color is deep, and which he describes it as "outrenoir". The material often creates testures, contrasts, on the surface of the work, which it damages. This is why the painter prefers to speak of "mono-pigmentary" painting rather than of "monochrome" painting. His works, in imposing formats, present a work sometimes close to sculpture.

Soulages' work has a meditative quality, and the artist has also claimed his interest in Zen and oriental cultures. Not seeking to represent reality, he paints, letting himself be guided by his freedom, renouncing any lyrical overflow. His works, moreover, do not bear a title. The artist has gained a certain notoriety in France thanks to major exhibitions dedicated to him (notably at the Center Pompidou in 2009) and, since 2014, with the Soulages museum's opening in his hometown.

His key works


Walnut stain on paper , 1949

Walnut stains (made using a natural pigment extracted from the bark of the walnut) are among Soulages' first abstract works, begun in the mid-1940s. The painter's gesture requires great importance in this painting, it can evoke the calligraphy of Chinese masters. A strong contrast is established between the dark color and the revealed whiteness of the paper.


Painting, November 30, 1967

Before experimenting with "outrenoir", Soulages first worked with black in association with other colors, here a liquid blue paint. The painter works on instinct; he does not try to condition the result to his will. The contours formed by the blue flowing are reworked by Soulages using the color black, which is most popular.

Pierre-Soulages.com "Philippe Migeat".

Painting, June 29, 1979

This large diptych bears witness to Soulages' swing in the "outrenoir". Paradoxically, it is a play of materials between the deep color and the light reflected in the furrows, the painter's surface roughness. From this emerges the sensation of a presence, of materiality, sometimes close to sculpture. © Beaux Arts Magazine Exceptional video to discover Soulages