It was in 1979 that Pierre Soulages, whose death was announced on Wednesday, invented the outrenoir technique that made him famous worldwide. But it was much earlier, during a class trip, that the child of Rodez had declared: "Art will be the most important thing in my life".
The master of black is dead. Pierre Soulages died at the age of 102, during the night of Tuesday 25 to Wednesday 26 October. This information was announced by the town hall of Rodez (Aveyron) on Wednesday 26 October and was confirmed by franceinfo. The internationally renowned artist died of heart failure in the hospital in Nimes (Gard), Mohamed Kaoud, Soulages' butler in Sète (Hérault) for the past twenty-seven years, told AFP.
The father of outrenoir, one of the major figures of contemporary art in France and the world, created for over eight decades. He worked until the end in his studio in Sète (Hérault).
"As a child I preferred to dip my brushes in black ink rather than use colours. I was told that I made large black lines on the paper. I would have answered that I was making snow," said Pierre Soulages in 2009, during the retrospective organised by the Centre Pompidou for his 90th birthday. In this way he made the white of the paper whiter by using black.
Pierre Soulages has always loved black: "It was the colour of my clothes as soon as I could choose them. My mother was outraged. She said to me: 'Do you want to wear my mourning already?'" he told AFP in February 2019. And it was in black that he married Colette in 1942, whose life he shared for nearly 80 years. In 1979, Pierre Soulages began to put only black on his canvases, inventing what he called outrenoir, another "mental field than black".
Pierre Soulages was born in 1919 in Rodez, Aveyron. His father, a coachbuilder who made carts, died when he was only 7 years old. He was brought up by his mother and his older sister. As a child, he escaped by frequenting the craftsmen in his neighbourhood. He kept a taste for tools, using paintbrushes or making his own instruments.
The shock of Conques
During a class trip, he visited the Romanesque abbey of Conques. An aesthetic shock. "It was there, I can say, that as a young man I decided that art would be the most important thing in my life.
He painted regularly from 1934 onwards and went to Paris at the age of 18 to prepare for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts competition. He was admitted, but found the teaching mediocre. He decided to return to Rodez.
The war period was eventful: he was mobilised in June 1940, demobilised at the beginning of 1941, studied at the Montpellier School of Fine Arts, and then worked in a vineyard under a false identity to avoid compulsory labour in Germany.
Pierre Soulages' career as a painter began in earnest when he moved to the Paris suburb of Courbevoie with Colette in 1946. From the outset, his works were abstract. He combines thick vertical, horizontal and oblique lines, like ideograms. He painted on paper with walnut stain, on broken glass with tar.
Soulages is not just about black. Beyond Conques, he was impressed by cave art, from which he draws his colours. Muted colours, from ochre to black, passing through red or more or less intense browns.
From 1951 onwards, Soulages also practised engraving, on copper plates. His small prints use all these colours, in contrast with the black. Later he produced lithographs in which he used brighter colours (vermilion red, bright yellow, blue). Then he made serigraphs (one of them was used for the poster of the Avignon Festival in 1996). On paper, he painted gouaches in which he introduced intense and luminous blues.
In his paintings of the 1950s-1970s, he contrasts black shapes with coloured backgrounds, then makes the colours of the background appear by scraping the black. Or he contrasts black with white.
Source: Valérie Oddos
France télévision rédaction culture.