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Pierre Huyghe: The Artist as Director Ocula Conversation Pierre Huyghe: The Artist as Director

Pierre Huyghe is a producer of spectacular and memorable enigmas, with works that function more like mirages than as objects. Abyssal Plain (2015–ongoing), his contribution to the 2015 Istanbul Biennial, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, was installed on the seabed of the Marmara Sea, some 20 metres below the surface of the water and close to...

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MoMA Expansion: Once the Modern, Always the Modern Ocula Report MoMA Expansion: Once the Modern, Always the Modern 29 Nov 2019 : Mohammad Salemy for Ocula

In the early decades of its existence, New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), founded in 1929, transformed from a philanthropic project modestly housed in a few rooms of the Heckscher Building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, to an alleged operating node in the United States' cultural struggle during the cold war, and one of the...

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Hans Hartung and Art Informel: Exhibition Walkthrough Ocula Insight | Video
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Hans Hartung and Art Informel: Exhibition Walkthrough 15 October 2019

Hans Hartung and Art Informel at Mazzoleni London (1 October 2019-18 January 2020) presents key works by the French-German painter while highlighting his connection with artists active in Paris during the 50s and 60s. In this video, writer and historian Alan Montgomery discusses Hartung's practice and its legacy.Born in Leipzig in 1904, Hans...

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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.

Biography by 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

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Contemporary art exhibition, Pierre Soulages, Pierre Soulages at Perrotin, Shanghai
Open Now
5 November–28 December 2019 Pierre Soulages Pierre Soulages Perrotin, Shanghai
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Simon Hantaï, Pierre Soulages and Antoni Tàpies at Timothy Taylor, London
6 September–19 October 2019 Group Exhibition Simon Hantaï, Pierre Soulages and Antoni Tàpies Timothy Taylor, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Pierre Soulages, Beyond Black 超越黑色 at Alisan Fine Arts, Hong Kong
20 May–12 August 2019 Pierre Soulages Beyond Black 超越黑色 Alisan Fine Arts, Central, Hong Kong

Represented By

In Related Press

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

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 and...

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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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