Viewing Room

Pierre Soulages: Light out of Darkness

April 3–17, 2020

#PierreSoulages


 

In celebration of his 100th birthday in December 2019, the Musée du Louvre, Paris, unveiled a solo survey exhibition with Pierre Soulages, marking only the third time in the institution’s history that the Salon Carré has been entirely devoted to the presentation of work by a single living artist. The others were Picasso and Chagall.

As Soulages embarks on a new century, he continues to develop his singular artistic language. We are pleased to share with you here a dramatic grouping of three recent paintings from the artist’s celebrated Outrenoir series. Each one of these canvases makes it clear that Soulages remains a bold and visionary painter, pushing forward the potential of his medium.

First shown in 1979 at the Centre Pompidou, Outrenoir—which translates as “beyond black”—is an ongoing body of work that examines the psychological and physical qualities of visual experience through abstraction. To create these paintings, Soulages treats black as a material—a conductor of light and dark—rather than as a color to be used in the service of representation. While his earlier works had already emphasized the use of black ink or paint, he would, from the 1980s on, completely cover his canvases with textured black pigments, inaugurating a philosophical inquiry into the existential beyond.

The three paintings in Light out of Darkness exemplify the continual experimentation and refinement of composition, method, and expression that Soulages brings to his latest work. To create their highly textured surfaces, he repeatedly applies black pigment into irregular rows. The resulting accumulation lends these canvases the qualities of sculptural reliefs. Each differs radically in form and texture, creating a dramatic optical interplay through its reflection and absorption of light. Though his methods are rigorous, Soulages never repeats himself: rather than taking a systematic technical approach to finding variation in his black paintings, he attempts with each work to inspire a unique visual and emotional response.

A review of Lévy Gorvy’s recent exhibition Pierre Soulages: A Century, by Will Heinrich for The New York Times, can be read here.