Ode to Black in the Black Forest: Pierre Soulages in the Biedermann collection
When light goes beyond black
The work of Pierre Soulages reflects the spirit of mediaeval alchemists: it arises from both the body and the mind, transmuted and enhanced through the prism of light become matter. His paintings have a power, an intensity that have room only for their intense radiation. Black stars that attract, envelop, captivate. Their physical presence is of an irresistible power and force: you lose yourself in it, get carried away by it; you literally fall into the cosmic depths of the black become light. Or black light. Sensual and serene density in one, encouraging both meditation and dialogue. Reality embodied, mystical and carnal, that vibrates and breathes. There is mysticism and faith, clear and calming, in this accomplished and yet constantly evolving Work of Dark. The ‘modern’ and deliberately minimalist extension of the MUSEUMART.PLUS is the ideal setting. More than an exhibition room, this ‘Soulages Room’ is actually a chapel: The Soulages Chapel. A serene place, human size, bare and conspicuous, where fifteen large ‘Outrenoirs’ monochromes interact and vibrate. Chapter of warrior-monks and philosophers from the depths of time, immense, intense and powerful, constantly changing in the play of light that illuminates or obscures them as it winds its way through the room. Black is more than a colour: it is all colours and light in one. It is presence and absence, incarnation and spirit, dense and subtle, ephemeral and timeless. It IS, simply. And Soulages is its prophet. Its medium. Its alchemist.
‘For me, black is an excess, a passion.’
Pierre Soulages, painter and engraver, was born in Rodez, in the south-west of France, on December 24, 1919. In this rocky and austere soil, high in minerals, where the light has the rugged harshness of the stones steeped in history, he develops a passion for Roman and prehistoric art at an early age. At 18, he is admitted to the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he remains for a very short period of time before, disappointed by the mediocrity of the teaching, returning to Rodez. This first sojourn in Paris, however, allows him to discover Cezanne and Picasso and spend a lot of time at the Louvre Museum.
Mobilized in 1940, demobilized in 1941, he stayed in Montpellier where he discovered the collections of the Musée Fabre before going into hiding to escape the requisitions of the STO*. It is only after the war that he is able to devote himself once again to painting by settling in Paris and opting, in a radical break with the dominant style of the time, to create canvases dominated by black. He exhibits for the first time in 1948 in Germany alongside the first masters of abstract art: Kupka, Domela, Herbin. A number of solo exhibitions follow into the late 1950s: Paris, London, Copenhagen, New York and Sao Paulo. He has made etchings and sets for ballet and theatre. His works have been travelling around major American museums for years with group exhibitions. He exhibits regularly at the Kootz Gallery in New York and at the Galerie de France in Paris. Major museums in Europe, the United States and Latin America began acquiring his paintings in the 1950s.
Today, he is represented in over 110 museums around the world with more than 250 paintings. The first retrospectives of his works went on display in the 1960s in Hanover, Essen, Zurich, The Hague and Houston. It was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, that he used, for the first time (1966), cables of steel to ‘stretch’ his canvases between floor and ceiling. 1979 is both a turning point and a culmination in the form of an artistic climax with the exhibition at Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris) of his first monopigmentary paintings based on ‘the reflection of light by the surface states of black**’. What he will come to call ‘black-light’ or ‘outrenoir’.
1987-1994: Completion of the 104 stained glass windows of the Church of Saint-Foy in Conques.
1994-1998: Publication of a first comprehensive annotated catalogue.
2001: Pierre Soulages is the first living artist to be exhibited at both The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
2005: First donation to the Museum of Rodez, his hometown, which is home to the world’s largest collection of his works.
2007: The Musée Fabre devotes an entire room to the valuable donation the painter made that year to the city of Montpellier.
2009: On the occasion of the painter's 90th birthday, the Centre Georges Pompidou puts on the biggest retrospective the Centre has ever put on for a living artist.
2014: Inauguration of the Musée Soulages in Rodez.
2017-18: The works of the painter in the Biedermann collection are at the centre of the exhibition ‘Leidenschaft. passion’ before being moved to the new dedicated extension of MUSEUMART.PLUS in Donaueschingen.
A Chapel of Light as an Ode to Black
* STO: The Service du Travail Obligatoire, or STO (Compulsory Work Service), was established in France in 1943 by the Nazi occupier and the Vichy regime. Forcibly requisitioned to participate in the German war effort, hundreds of thousands of French workers, often young men, were sent to Germany to replace workers who had left for the Eastern Front. Many found refuge in the underground maquis of the Resistance to escape.
** To know more about it: www.pierre-soulages.com