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Visions of Brazil: Reimagining Modernity from Tarsila to Sonia Ocula Report Visions of Brazil: Reimagining Modernity from Tarsila to Sonia 18 May 2019 : Fawz Kabra for Ocula

Bridging almost a century of Brazilian art, Visions of Brazil: Reimagining Modernity from Tarsila to Sonia at Blum & Poe in New York (30 April–22 June 2019), hosted in collaboration with Mendes Wood DM, offers a rereading of Brazilian Modernism through the works of artists practising at different times, from the 20th century through to the...

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Reiko Tomii Ocula Conversation Reiko Tomii

In 1969, Horikawa Michio, schoolteacher and member of the artist collective GUN (Group Ultra Niigata), filled out the customs paperwork to mail a one-kilogram river stone from Niigata, the proverbial 'backside of Japan', to President Nixon. In return, Horikawa received a thank you note for this 'most unusual Christmas gift'—a muted anti-war...

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Yun Hyong-keun in Venice: The Artist Behind the Paintings Ocula Report Yun Hyong-keun in Venice: The Artist Behind the Paintings 4 May 2019 : Sherry Paik for Ocula

'He was not a "political" kind of person. He just wanted to be honest and straight. But it was not easy in Korea to live like that,' writes curator Kim Inhye on artist Yun Hyong-keun. For much of his life, Yun lived in proximity to some of the most tumultuous moments in modern Korean history, from which he emerged as a pioneer of abstract...

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Pierre Soulages

b. 1919, France

Black has long been the central concern of Pierre Soulages, who was influenced by the prehistoric charcoal cave drawings he encountered in museums as a youth. Making paintings and sculptures since the 1930s, Soulages experiments with various applications of black paint—ranging from flat on surfaces to layering pigment until it becomes sculptural—in a pursuit of producing light in darkness.

As a young man Soulages was aware of the works of Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne and their approach to art inspired him to train as a painter, which he did at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Early works from this period—such as Peinture 60 x 73 cm (c. 1936), a small painting of trees on a hillside—tend towards representation; however, his rejection of the school's traditional approach to painting led him to return to his hometown of Rodez. Soulages served briefly in the military during World War II, after which he moved to Montpellier. There, he met Russian illustrator and designer Sonia Delaunay, who introduced him to abstract art. He produced his first abstract painting in 1946, shifting from naturalistic landscapes to the calligraphic abstractions that would come to define his practice.

Soulages' first groundbreaking work was the 'Broux de noix' series (Walnut Stains) (1947–1959), made using walnut stain—commonly reserved for furniture—instead of paint. When exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants in 1947, the 'Broux de noix' paintings attracted attention not only for their use of an unconventional and inexpensive material but also for the bold and restrained energy embedded in them. In Walnut stain and oil on paper 74 x 47.5 cm (1947), for example, broad strokes sweep across the canvas, their darkness and crackle texture in stark contrast with the lighter background.

Around the same time as he was making walnut stain paintings, Soulages increasingly concentrated on using black paint, applying it in layers on white backgrounds. In Painting, 195 x 130 cm, May 1953 (1953), thick, black slab-like strokes form a cross over a thinner wash of the shade, while exposed bits of white peek through the dark. This juxtaposition of dark and light is also common in Soulages' prints, such as the black marks in the lithograph XXe Siecle (1970) or the ribbons of azurite blue in the silkscreen print Sérigraphie 18 (1988). Though departing from his contemporary French abstract painters in his preference for black over a colourful palette, Soulages was considered a prominent figure of the Jeune École de Paris (Young School of Paris)—loosely associated artists who made the gestural or post-Cubist abstractions—alongside Hans Hartung.

As abstract painting gained momentum in postwar Europe and America, Soulages' reputation began to extend beyond France. His work was especially supported by American curator James Johnson Sweeney and art dealer Samuel M Kootz; in 1954, the artist held his one of first solo shows in the US at Kootz Gallery, New York. During this period, Soulages' paintings were also included in American exhibitions of works by notable European artists, including Younger European Painters at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum (1953) and The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors at the Museum of Modern Art (1955). Although Soulages shares with American Abstract Expressionists the use of vigorous brushwork and an affinity for the contrast between black and white, he differs from them in that he paints with a careful deliberation of his actions rather than relying on chance.

Soulages' preoccupation with light and black culminated in 'Outrenoir' ('Beyond Black'), an ongoing series of black paintings begun in 1979. The first Outrenoir painting was born by accident, when the artist realised that he had achieved something new in an unsuccessful painting: by covering the entire canvas in black, Soulages had created a surface that reflected light. The artist has continued to experiment in a similar spirit, employing his homemade brushes and tools to layer black pigment onto the canvas and sculpt rough or smooth surfaces that bounce off light in different ways when the paint dries. In Peinture 296 x 165 cm (2014), for example, the hardened acrylic paint forms diagonal ridges while the short strokes created by gouging paint off the canvas recall water drops in Peinture 18 novembre 2014 (also 2014).

For more than seven decades, Soulages has exhibited internationally and regularly. In 2001, he was the first living artist to display his works at the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg; in 2009, Centre Pompidou in Paris organised a major retrospective of his oeuvre titled Soulages. Soulages' works are in the permanent collections of the Australian National Gallery, Canberra; Musée Fabre, Montpellier; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; and Museum of Modern Art, New York among others. Musée Soulages, founded in 2014 in Rodez, houses over 500 of his works and is dedicated to contemporary art.

Soulages lives and works in Sète and Paris.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2018
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Featured Artworks

Gouache 65 x 50 cm, 1951 by Pierre Soulages contemporary artwork Pierre SoulagesGouache 65 x 50 cm, 1951, 1951 Gouache on paper laid down on canvas
65 x 50 cm
Waddington Custot

Current & Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Pierre Soulages, Beyond Black • Centenary Exhibition at Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong
Opening Soon
20 May–29 June 2019 Pierre Soulages Beyond Black • Centenary Exhibition Alisan Fine Arts, Central, Hong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Show, Asian and European Postwar Masters: From Soulages to Zao Wou-Ki at de Sarthe, Hong Kong
13 September–2 December 2016 Group Show Asian and European Postwar Masters: From Soulages to Zao Wou-Ki de Sarthe, Project Space

Represented By

In Related Press

Pierre Soulages, Musée Soulages, Rodez, France Related Press Pierre Soulages, Musée Soulages, Rodez, France Frieze : 13 August 2014

Ninety-four years old and still active in his Paris studio, Pierre Soulages – the so-called 'painter of black' – has remained a star in Europe since his French debut in 1949. In 2001 he was the first living artist to have an exhibition in St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum, in 2009, he was the subject of the Pompidou's largest exhibition to...

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Pierre Soulages: Master of Black, Still Going Strong Related Press Pierre Soulages: Master of Black, Still Going Strong The New York Times : 20 May 2014

PARIS — Pierre Soulages, 94, still paints every day on the floor of his atelier in the Latin Quarter here, raking heavy black pigment across large canvases in search of a particular onyx gleam that he has termed "outrenoir," or beyond black. This color is his abstract art signature, similar to what blue was for Yves Klein or white...

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Pierre Soulages: Painter of Black and Light Related Press Pierre Soulages: Painter of Black and Light Hyperallergic : 14 May 2014

On the third floor of the Pierre Soulages show currently on view at Dominique Lévy gallery, viewers will discover paintings from the 1950s and 60s. Some are small and others medium-scale. In each case, they are typically dense in their structure, but given to a more inadvertent openness than most of his recent work. These earlier paintings contain...

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PIERRE SOULAGES Related Press PIERRE SOULAGES Interview Magazine : 7 May 2014

Black suggests darkness and death, but French painter Pierre Soulages uses black as a means to create light. Often called the "Painter of Black," Soulages has obsessively worked with this color (or noncolor) since the start of his career—all the way back in the 1940s. In his early paintings, he used house-paint brushes and palette...

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