Famous for his style of “Outrenoir” (also called “ultrablack” or “Beyond-Black”), French artist Pierre Soulages turned 100 last December and to celebrate this milestone, the Lympia gallery in Nice is showcasing around one hundred of his paintings until the end of August
The exhibition features works, some rarely shown in public, alongside those of his friends, like the poet Léopold Sédar Sengho. A great tribute to an artist who once said, “I don’t work with black, I work with the light that reflects it.”
As for Soulages, one has to look beyond the colour of the texture. A native of Rodez in the south of France, he has always used dark paint, but with other hues, such as walnut stain, a brown colour he really loved, to create abstract works and make a name for himself in the world of art. He showed his first works in 1947 and seven years later, at the age of 33, he exhibited at the Venice Biennale. His first solo exhibition in New York was held two years later.
It was purely by accident that, one day in 1979 at the age of 60 and already famous, the painter became synonymous with one unique colour. Unhappy with an all-black painting he had just finished, Soulages decided to take a nap thinking that he would burn his work later, but when he came back to it a few hours later, he realized that it had absorbed ambient light to subtle, shifting effect. The outrenoir was born and from that moment, Soulages became known as the master of black and never used another colour again. Seeing this technique “as another country, like Across the Rhine, Across the Channel, another way of perceiving painting”, he used it to address the audience’s own obscurity.
Hailed as “the world’s greatest living artist” by former French president François Hollande, Pierre Soulages still paints today. Known for his perfectionist streak, he will burn a canvas if he’s not satisfied with it. “If it is mediocre, it goes”. The artist has around 230 pieces in museums around the world, including the Guggenheim in New York and the Tate Modern in London, and a cultural institution devoted to his work opened in 2014 in his native Rodez with a permanent collection based on 500 works donated by the artist and his wife.
Pierre Soulages, La puissance créatrice at the Lympia Gallery runs until the 23rd of August. Entrance is free and opening hours are on Wednesday from 2 pm to 6 pm, Thursday from 10:30 am to 9 pm and from Friday to Sunday from 10:30 am to 6 pm. Reservation is essential.
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