Pierre Soulages was born on December 24 in Rodez, France.
Sensitive to the contrast of black at a very young age, he paints a snowy landscape using China ink to reveal the whiteness of the paper.
He is deeply affected by reproductions of Claude Lorrain’s and Rembrandt’s ink washes : Lorrain shows him how the dilution of ink stains creates a special light, while Rembrandt impresses on him the force and rhythm of the brushstrokes that, through contrast, illuminated the white of the paper. He produces his first paintings.
He learns about prehistoric and parietal art, which make extensive use of black pigments (vegetal and animal carbon black, pyrolusite). He considers from here on, black to be the originating color of painting.
He breaks definitively with any attempt at representation and creates his first abstract paintings.
He applies walnut stain on paper and buys brushes and paint spatulas used for painting buildings —diverting them from their original function and discovering a new freedom with technique.
His paintings, dominated by somber colors, stand out from the French art scene. They are composed against a bright background, so much so that the light appears to be contained in the work itself.
He covers the surface of the canvas with wide solid areas of black that, by rubbing or scraping, reveal the presence of white, ochre, blue or red which have previously been applied underneath. He explores the ability of black to illuminate, through contrast, one or more colors that he highlights or suggests.
A major turning-point takes place in his work: he paints canvases entirely in black in order to undo the opposition between form and content and to produce a play of light according to the surface conditions of the paint layer. Thus begins the period he himself has described as “noir lumière“ (black-as-light) and then, since 1990, “outrenoir.“ The resulting paintings are all experiments with light envisaged as a material.
He begins producing monumental polyptychs that introduce an additional discontinuity to the surface, that of the chassis. Their format requires the movement of the viewer which thereby offers a new point of view on the painting.
He receives a public commission to create the stained glass windows of Sainte-Foy de Conques, an abbey that had left a lasting impression on him in his childhood.
The work, extending over eight years, constitutes one of his most important fields of experimentation. He creates a translucent, colorless glass that that allows a diffuse transmission of light while respecting its changing spectrum.
He abandons oil to work exclusively with acrylic. This technique has the advantage of drying quickly, making it possible to vary the thickness of the paint layer and to fade the black into a multitude of shades.
Inauguration of the Musée Soulages in Rodez, an institution that houses the largest collection of the painter’s works.
What I have been exploring for several years now is, for the most part, based on the specific quality, the particular brightness of the light reflected on the canvas being transmuted by its surface and by the black that throws it back out.
Thierry Raspail and Thierry Prat (ed.), “The Love of Art”, in The Love of Art : An Exhibition of Contemporary Art in France (exh. cat., Lyon, Biennale d'art contemporain, September 3 - October 13, 1991), Lyon, Musée d'art contemporain, 1991, p. 7.