FOG Design + Art Spotlight: Pierre Soulages
2018 marks Lévy Gorvy’s second year participating in FOG Design + Art in San Francisco. The physicality inherent to our artists’ practices is evident in nearly each work included in the booth, from Enrico Castellani’s shaped canvases to Robert Ryman’s dense impastos. A wide variety of media comprises many of the works presented, ranging from the stained limestone and corrugated steel of Terry Adkins’ sculptures, to the taxidermy glass eye and flayed rubber tires of Carol Rama’s assemblage paintings. Uniting this diverse presentation is the prerogative each artist undertakes to engage a visual language rooted in the material concerns of their practice, resulting in a rich exhibition of innovative techniques and unique voices.
Pierre Soulages began painting in 1946, and continues to produce works today at the age of 98. In a text on the artist published in 2014, philosopher Alain Badiou theorized that the artist’s black brushstrokes—a motif that dates to the very beginning of his career—correlates to the artist’s existential doctrine, which unifies humanity’s relationship to artistic creation. Enjoy this spotlight on Soulages’ Peinture 181 x 81 cm, 7 avril 2007 (2007), on view at Lévy Gorvy’s presentation at FOG Design + Art, Booth 305.
A painting is an organization, a set of relationships between shapes, lines, and colored surfaces, on which the meanings we give it are made and unmade.
—Pierre Soulages, 1974
The above statement’s applicability to the Soulages’ practice endures to the present, as his works remain indescribable and incapable of conveying meaning in absolute terms; rather, they incarnate meaning—manifesting as purely visual objects that may only be experienced sensually. However, unlike Minimalist paintings, Soulages’s works are holistic—discrete entities within their surroundings —and rather than asserting a painting-as-object status, they exist as subjective extensions of experiential reality. Thus, Soulages deftly prevents his work from being subject to hermeneutic discourse, presenting pure visual impression that requires no interpretation, only interaction.
The title of the present work, Peinture 181 x 81 cm, 7 avril 2007, is derived from the dimensions of its support and the date of its making (just as Soulages has titled his works for the past six decades), emphasizing the painting’s existence as a delineated entity in space and marking its temporal origin. For the evolution of the work as an object—or rather a “thing” (chose), as the artist prefers to call his paintings—is a perpetually ongoing source of interaction. Approaching both his oeuvre and the vast history of painting, we may understand Soulages’s late work as the determined affirmation of painting’s perpetually new continuity; rather than reading these all-black works as manifestations of aesthetic nihilism, upon consideration one can view Soulages’s work as an allegory for the reality of truth. Peinture 181 x 81 cm, 7 avril 2007 is a unique construction, one that does not correlate to a sensory or conceptual referent, but rather asserts itself as the set of consequences resulting from the gestures of its creation. It is entirely self-legitimating, and firmly establishes the possibility of a certain knowledge without dictating what that knowledge should be; that undertaking is left to the viewer.
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