Pierre Soulages: Paint it black
Let’s start with the beginning. I know that pictures do not always convey reality and there is nothing like the real experience of visiting an exhibition anyway so I will do the best I can to describe the indescribable.
You see the two pictures above? On the left, a young painter named Pierre Soulages in his youth. Oh, he happens to be the most influential and celebrated living French painter and a genius of abstraction. You will soon understand why.
Now on the right, what do you see? A black surface with some white strokes, right? What if I told you this canvas is only black, painted all over in black and 100% black? You’ll think ‘She is obsessed and mono-maniac about black. Yes we know, it’s the new black but.. Wait. There is white too, isn’t there?’
Well no. It’s all black really. But when I was standing in front of that painting, one metre away from it, at the Paris retrospective celebrating the 60 years of work of the artist at the Centre Pompidou, I too thought it was white. And then, when my eyes were 10 cm away from the canvas itself – is that even allowed?! – I had to admit it: it was all black, and my perception has been altered by some mysterious dark and unknown evil forces. Which actually were simply… light.
Known as “the painter of black and light”, Soulages is for me more a sculptor of paint who creates 3-D paintings that interact with the viewer and the environment: depending on the settings of the painting, what surrounds it, the light – natural or not, the position and vision angle of the viewer: the picture you see differs and the experience therefore becomes unique.
The exhibition features over 100 pieces from the artist, who started his expressionism journey with experiments of brushstrokes of black ink on paper, thinking: ‘It’s what I do that teaches me what I’m looking for’ (1953).
When asked about his obsession for black, Soulages says: ‘Black has unexpected possibilities, and conscious of what I do not know, I go to meet them. Why black? The only answer, which covers the unknown reasons that lurk in the obscurest regions of ourselves and of the powers of painting, is: BECAUSE.’.
He even went as far as coining a neologism to define his work: outrenoir, for beyond-black, a concept that reminds of Klein’s experiments for the deepest blue. ‘Outrenoir to signify, beyond black, a light reflected and transmuted by black. Outrenoir: a black that ceases to be itself to become luminous, a source of secret light. Outrenoir: a mental space that isn’t that of ordinary black.’
I must also salute the skilled display of the exhibition, which was close to perfection. By far, one of the best art exhibitions I have seen this year. Actually, it is on until 8 MARCH 2010, so I think I will go back. Centre Pompidou, Paris. 12€, Concessions 9€.