Viewing Room

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Peinture 181 x 243 cm, 28 janvier 2010

Acrylic on canvas
Signed and dated on the back
71 ¼ x 95 ½ in. (181 x 243 cm)
Triptych (3 elements of 181 x 81 cm)

Private collection, Paris, acquired directly from the artist in 2010

P. Encrevé, Soulages. L’œuvre complet. Peintures, vol. 4 1997-2013, Paris, Gallimard, 2015, n° 1454, p. 425, repr.

Pierre Soulages is undoubtedly the most well known contemporary living French painter. Over the years, black has become more and more prominent in his work. This translates concretely by the progressive disappearance of the color on the canvas in laid of black essentially. Stubbornly pursuing his quest for the Outrenoir, the artist and his Work fascinates.

Since 1979, Pierre Soulages has been painting entirely black pictures that escape monochromy through the play of the reflected light, according to textures structured on the surface by various tools. He uses black no longer as a colour, but as a material that reveals light. The artist gives to this type of painting the name Outrenoir. "Outrenoirto say: beyond black, a reflected light, transmuted by black. Outrenoir:black that ceases to be black becomes an emitter of light, of secret light. Outrenoir:a mental field other than simple black. » (1)

Pierre Soulages' gesture, immersed in reflexion on the black colour’s properties, is not aimed at the value of the black colour itself, but at the light it reveals. This way of treating light as a matter runs through his entire Work. As he himself says: "A black can be transparent or opaque, shiny or matt, smooth or grained, and it changes everything. " And Soulages insists: "I consider that light as I use it is a material. " In short, the artist doesn't paint so much with black as with reflected light through the black surfaces. »
His painting, sometimes matt, sometimes shiny, reflects light by the constructed scheme of the accumulation of the raw material (black paint) and especially the removal of parts of this material. Hollows and bumps are thus formed on all or part of the surface of the canvas, and it is these hollows or bumps that reflect or retain the light towards the viewer, i.e. create the work itself. 

But let the artist and theorist of his own work express himself here: "The light coming from the canvas towards the viewer creates a space in front of the canvas and the viewer is in this space: there is instantaneity of vision for each point of view, if one changes there is dissolution of the first vision, erasure, appearance of another; the canvas is present in the instant it is seen, it is not at a distance in time". 
What interests Soulages, then, is not so much the work itself as it has been conceived of since the artist existed, but rather the action of the gaze, of the instantaneous point of view that forms the work.

Since the 1950’s, artists have been questioning the limits of painting. For Soulages, the polyptych certainly ensures large formats, but instead of producing only a wall effect, further enhanced by the dimensions, the different surfaces in fact ensure various relationships with light, contrasts of changing rhythms that can also be produced by breaking, caesura on the same canvas - and Soulages does not deprive himself of this - the associations of horizontal or vertical canvases allow the gaze to receive as autonomous and convergent sources. What a single canvas, in spite of its trompe l'oeil, does not allow.
As a result, the painting reunate both the autonomy of each part of the polyptych acting as an independent object, and the concentrated effect of a whole reacting globally under the light by merging the contrasts of its different parts. Monumentality is not simply a matter of increased deployment, but of associations of living paintings reacting to their symbiosis, as in the triptych Peinture 181 x 243 cm, 28 January 2010, which is a composition of remarkable completion. The alternation of matt and glossy strips gives to each panel its own rhythm and a singular luminosity.

(1) Pierre Soulages, «Les éclats du noir», entretien avec Pierre Encré, Soulages, Beaux-Arts Magazine, 1996.