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b. 1919, France

Pierre Soulages Biography

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.

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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

Exhibition view: Pierre Soulages, Outrenoir, Lévy Gorvy, Hong Kong (7 July–10 September 2020). Courtesy Lévy Gorvy. Photo: Kitmin Lee.

Pierre Soulages Featured Artworks

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Peinture 81 x 57 cm, 27 septembre 2013 by Pierre Soulages contemporary artwork
Pierre SoulagesPeinture 81 x 57 cm, 27 septembre 2013, 2013Acrylic on canvas
81 x 57 cm
Lévy Gorvy Contact Gallery
Peinture 130 x 165 cm, 1 septembre 2019 by Pierre Soulages contemporary artwork
Pierre SoulagesPeinture 130 x 165 cm, 1 septembre 2019, 2019Acrylic on canvas
130 x 165 cm
Lévy Gorvy Contact Gallery
Peinture 130 x 130 cm, 10 octobre 2019 by Pierre Soulages contemporary artwork
Pierre SoulagesPeinture 130 x 130 cm, 10 octobre 2019, 2019Acrylic on canvas
130 x 130 cm
Lévy Gorvy Contact Gallery
Peinture 102 x 165 cm, 27 février 2015 by Pierre Soulages contemporary artwork
Pierre SoulagesPeinture 102 x 165 cm, 27 février 2015, 2015Acrylic on canvas
102 x 165 cm
Lévy Gorvy Contact Gallery
Peinture 102 x 165 cm, 15 janvier 2020 by Pierre Soulages contemporary artwork
Pierre SoulagesPeinture 102 x 165 cm, 15 janvier 2020, 2020Acrylic on canvas
102 x 165 cm
Lévy Gorvy Contact Gallery
Peinture 81 x 57 cm, 27 septembre 2013 by Pierre Soulages contemporary artwork
Pierre SoulagesPeinture 81 x 57 cm, 27 septembre 2013, 2013Acrylic on canvas
81 x 57 cm
Lévy Gorvy Contact Gallery
Peinture 130 x 165 cm, 1 septembre 2019 by Pierre Soulages contemporary artwork
Pierre SoulagesPeinture 130 x 165 cm, 1 septembre 2019, 2019Acrylic on canvas
130 x 165 cm
Lévy Gorvy Contact Gallery
Peinture, 130 x 130 cm, 10 octobre 2019 by Pierre Soulages contemporary artwork
Pierre SoulagesPeinture, 130 x 130 cm, 10 octobre 2019, 2019Acrylic on canvas
130 x 130 cm
Lévy Gorvy Contact Gallery

Pierre Soulages Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Pierre Soulages, Outrenoir at Lévy Gorvy, Hong Kong
Open Now
7 July–10 September 2020 Pierre Soulages Outrenoir Lévy GorvyHong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Pierre Soulages, Pierre Soulages at Perrotin, Shanghai
Closed
5 November–28 December 2019 Pierre Soulages PerrotinShanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Simon Hantaï, Pierre Soulages and Antoni Tàpies at Timothy Taylor, London
Closed
6 September–19 October 2019 Group Exhibition Simon Hantaï, Pierre Soulages and Antoni Tàpies Timothy TaylorLondon

Pierre Soulages Represented By

Lévy Gorvy contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Lévy Gorvy New York, London, Hong Kong, Zurich
Perrotin contemporary art gallery in Paris, France Perrotin Hong Kong, New York, Paris, Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo
Timothy Taylor contemporary art gallery in London, United Kingdom Timothy Taylor London, New York

Pierre Soulages In Related Press

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Pierre Soulages, Extreme Painter at 100 Related Press Pierre Soulages, Extreme Painter at 100 19 October 2019, Hyperallergic

Pierre Soulages is a century old. In anticipation of his retrospective to be held at the Salon Carré at the Louvre later this year, the current exhibition at Lévy Gorvy, Pierre Soulages: A Century, presents a generously full survey. On the first floor, we see the paintings with wide black horizontals or verticals, which made his name in France...

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

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 20 May 2014, The New York Times

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 14 May 2014, Hyperallergic

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...

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