Strong roots to Rodez and the Aveyron
Pierre Soulages, a French abstract and contemporary artist of international renown. He was born in Rodez in 1919, precisely rue Combarel. He grew up in a vibrant, bustling neighbourhood full of craftspeople and blacksmiths. This is where he learned to appreciate patience and determination in a gesture, artistic skill and know-how, furthermore the satisfaction of working with noble materials and the merits of letting chance take its course.
Pierre Soulages's artworks are exhibited in more than one hundred museums world-wide. In American museums, he held his first exhibitions very early on in his career, in the 1950s in New York. In 2010, a retrospective of his work took place at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and attracted over 500.000 visitors. On May 1st, 2014, the Musée Soulages in Rodez opened after a few years in the building.
His artistic development was heavily influenced by his childhood experiences. He freely evokes the landscape of the Aveyron, the stark outlines of the trees in the causses—meaning "plateau" in Aveyron, his fascination for the Statues-Menhir, and for the Conques abbey. As an example, the immense stained-glass windows Soulages worked on for the abbey are translucid but not transparent, made of a colourless white glass developed by the artist, capturing the light and emphasizing the beauty of the Romanesque architecture. Both indoors and outdoors, these stained glass windows reflect an array of soft colours that shift endlessly throughout the day.
The work of Pierre Soulages
Soulages is famous for his extensive use of black in his artwork. However, he uses as well other pigments such as reds, browns, and blues. He typically works with wide brushes—the ones used by house painters—diverting them from their usual purpose up to creating new brushes. His art goes beyond, as he paints floors, can add or remove matter, making him one of the most famous abstract contemporary artists.
Soulages painted on paper using walnut stains for the first time in 1948, producing sculptural or biomorphic compositions. In 1979, the artist invented outre-noir, a large canvas standing alone or grouped in politychs. These canvases are entirely painted in black, smooth or shiny, striated or ridged, designed to be hung from taut cables. The artist defines it as: "Outre-noir is a reflection of another country, a different mental universe to that of the simple colour black." The light reflected on the painted surface gives his work a presence, provoking a face-to-face dialogue with the spectator.
The Soulages Museum in Rodez; a major collection and a unique but international exhibition
Soulages and his wife Colette agreed to make an exceptional donation to Rodez in 2005. Five hundred artworks, including his entire corpus of engravings—etchings, lithographic prints, silk-screen prints—, the preliminary studies for the stained-glass windows at Conques, paintings on canvas and paper—a unique collection including gouaches, inks, and walnut stains—documentation, books, photographs, films, letters, etc.
According to the artist's wishes, the Musée Soulages in Rodez is of unconventional design as it has to reflect the process of artistic creation. A vast hall—500 m2, approximately 5400 sq. ft.—is set to host temporary exhibitions and national and international events. The museum's fundamental design is ground-breaking in itself. The architecture has been designed by Catalan firm RCR Arquitectes, selected out of a total of 98 applicants. RCR has gained reputation and recognition for the way their buildings blend into and dialogue with the surrounding nature and landscape.
Christie's, the famous art dealers, wrote about Soulages:
But before Soulages reached his current investigations of what he calls ‘outrenoir’, or ‘beyond black’, he began with the gesture. As Abstract Expressionism exploded from the New York scene across the globe to spawn movements such as Gutai in Japan and Danseakhwa in Korea, Soulages, whose early work anticipated the genre, was one of a group of Post-war Europeans who fully embraced the movement, enjoying recognition beyond his native France. ‘Post-war European art was at a height in the 1950s, and Soulages was at the centre of that moment,’ says Kemper Museum of Art associate curator Karen T. Butler. ‘His early works flaunt his interest in materiality and mark making. That is also reflected in his titles, which tell you what it is: the kind of painting, dimensions, and the date. They are not symbolic.’