Since he started from a very early age to be interested in drawing and painting, Soulages determined to become a teacher. At the age of 18 he went to Paris to prepare for the entrance exam to the Ecole Nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. After he was accepted he refused to attend the classes, convinced of their mediocrity. During his stay in Paris, Pierre Soulages discovered modern painting, visiting the Louvre and exhibitions of Cézanne and Picasso. He was demobbed in 1941 in occupied Paris, and went to Montpellier, where he enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts and regularly visited the Musée Fabre. Montpellier was also occupied, because of which Soulages started a period in which he did not paint. It was not until 1946 that he could devote himself to painting. His canvases, which are dominated by black, are abstract and sombre, and can easily be differentiated from the semi-figurative and colourist post-war works. Preferring to use knife and spatula rather than the traditional brush, he scrapes and digs over the surface of the paper and changes its texture. Soulages’ first paintings were exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants.. He found a studio in Paris, close to Montparnasse. In 1948 he took part in exhibitions in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, the Französische abstrakte Malerei that travelled to several German museums standing out. In 1949 he had his first solo show in the Lydia Conti Gallery, as well as collective exhibitions in New York, London, Sao Palo and Copenhagen. From 1949 to 1952 he did his first sets for theatre and ballet, and in the Lacouriere studio did his first prints. The Kootz Gallery in New York presented his work from 1954 to 1966, and the Galerie de France in Paris from 1956 to 1992. The first retrospectives of his work were organised in Germany in the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover and in the Folkwang Museum in Essen in 1960. In the 1970s he experimented with new techniques, like acrylic and from 1976 worked bronze sculptures inspired by his own prints. In 1979 in the Pompidou Centre, he exhibited his first monochrome paintings which were based on the reflection of light off the service, which he would later refer to as outrenoir or beyond black. In 1987 Soulages won the Grand Prix National de Peinture in Paris and won a commission for 104 stained windows for the Abbey Church of Conques, a work to which he devoted himself for seven years, making extensive investigations that would result in a specific treatment of glass. Several new retrospectives have been organised: the Museum Fridericianum de Kassel, l’IVAM – Centro Julio-Gonzalez, Valencia and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes presented a retrospective entitled Soulages: Forty Years of Painting (1989). He was the first living artist to be invited to exhibit in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Marking his 90th birthday, the Pompidou Centre organised the biggest retrospective in the Centre ever dedicated to a living artist from the early 1980s. In 2005, Pierre Soulages donated to his native city of Rodez a total of 250 paintings, works on paper, prints and bronzes. After a second donation in 2012, the Musée Soulages was opened in Rodez in May 2014. He stands out for the monumentality and for the broad, strong strokes that make black stripes on large format canvases. Line here confirms its architectural strength and sets up a subtle dialogue with the white canvas. Far from simplified symbolism, the artist explores the visual qualities of black, its textures, contrasts and abilities to attract light. This dialogue of light with the opaque and monolithic forms once again leads in a very concrete manner into the register of architecture, which we know is of crucial importance in the career of Pierre Soulages; for he who in 1994 completed the stained glass of the Romanesque church of Conques Abbey precisely there discovered a form of sober and heavy beauty that proved to be crucial in his artistic profession. Pierre Soulages lives and works in Paris and in Sete.

Peinture, 1971

Brou de noix et liant acrylo-vinylique sur toile
230 x 162 cm
Don de la Société des Amis, 2009

Cette œuvre s’impose par son format monumental et par un tracé ample et solide inscrit sur la toile en larges rubans noirs. La ligne y affirme sa puissance architecturale et instaure un dialogue subtil avec le blanc de la toile en réserve. Loin de toute symbolique simplificatrice, le peintre explore les qualités visuelles du noir, sa texture, ses contrastes et sa capacité à faire surgir la lumière. Ce dialogue de la lumière avec des formes opaques et monolithiques renvoie de manière très concrète au registre de l’architecture, dont on sait qu’elle eut une importance décisive dans le parcours de Pierre Soulages. Car celui qui acheva en 1994 les vitraux de l’abbatiale romane de Conques découvrit, enfant, dans ce même lieu, une forme de beauté sobre et sévère qui s’avéra décisive dans sa vocation artistique.