Pierre Soulages

Born in Rodez, Aveyron, in 1919
French painter, engraver and sculptor
Who known as the "Painter of Black

"Black interested me first of all
in terms of its relationship to the other colours,
it’s a contrast.
Alongside it, even a dark colour lights up.
In the same way, it intensifies white.
But absolute black doesn’t exist, or it exists only in caves.
I find it fascinating, what’s more,
that people went down into the darkest of places,
into the complete darkness of the caves, to paint with black!
The colour black is the colour of origins. Of our own origins too.
Before we’re born, before “seeing the light of day,” we are all in the black dark.
And the first person to produce a black square was Robert Fludd in 1617.
It was a Rosy Cross.
The Rosicrucians believed,
I think, that the whole world began in black and would end in black."

"When I was 16,
I saw a reproduction of a prehistoric cave painting of a bison from the Altamira cave in Spain.
I read that this painting dated back 18,000 years; that is 180 centuries. 
I realized that our entire culture had only existed for 20 centuries,
the Christian era for 20 centuries, 
the Bible for 26 centuries, 
and Greek art for 26 centuries. 
So at 16, I decided to do something brave: I went on a prehistoric dig. 
In fact, I've had my name in a museum since I was 18 years old, 
not for my painting but for the prehistoric objects I found. 
That's how I started thinking about art. 
It's fascinating to think that as soon as man came into existence, he started painting. 
As I said, I've always loved black, and I realized that, 
from the beginning, man went into completely dark caves to paint. 
They painted with black too. 
They could have painted with white because there were white stones all over the ground, 
but no, they chose to paint with black in the dark. 
It's incredible, isn't it? "

"I always loved to paint. 
As a kid, I liked to dip my paintbrush in black ink.
They gave colors to me to use, but I didn't like them very much...... 
And then one day I realized that the only thing I ever wanted to do was to paint.
I realized that most people waste their lives earning a living, and I wanted to live. 
I love painting, so I keep painting. 
That's how I became an artist."

"As a symbol, 
black is contradictory. 
It connotes anarchy as well as authority. 
It is as much pomp and celebration as austerity and mourning. 
For me, its value is far from being symbolic: 
I love it for the painterly power it has hidden within it."

"Black has unsuspected possibilities, 
and conscious of what I do not know, I go to meet them."

"It was in 1979.
I was painting, or rather making a mess of a painting. A big black daub. 
I was miserable, and thinking that it was pure masochism to go on so long,I went to bed.
On waking up I went to look at the painting, 
and I saw that it wasn't the black that made the picture come alive 
but the light reflected on the black surfaces. 
On the striated surfaces the light vibrated, 
and on the smooth areas all was calm. 
A new space: 
the space of painting was no longer on the wall, 
as in the Byzantine pictorial tradition, 
nor was it behind the wall, as in perspective painting, 
it was now physically in front of the painting. 
The light was coming to me from the painting, I was in the painting. 
And what is more, the light was coming from the colour that is the greatest absence of light. 
I went on from there."

“Black is the color of the origin of painting 
— and our own origin. 
In French, we say the baby ‘sees the day,’ 
to mean he was born. 
Before that, of course, we were in the dark.”

"Black is, optically speaking,
the colour which reflects the least light ; 
but when it catches the light on a thousand tiny ridges, 
you get the impression of a colour going from dark grey to quite light grey. 
And the areas of grey or black produced in this way 
have a very special quality which appeals to me and fascinates me. 
It's a very different quality from the one you get in the traditional way, by mixing colours, 
and it has something unique and irreplaceable about it..."

"I've always preferred house-painters' brushes 
to those that are specially prepared for artists 
–from way back, even before my abstract paintings of 1946. 
I sometimes prepare them myself, that's to say, I alter them –by pruning them, 
for instance- so that I can get the degree of suppleness or roughness that I need. 
Some of the new paintings have been done with these wide brushes 
and also with knives, of the palette-knife type, to smooth the surface. 
But a number of the paintings have been done entirely with one or the other of these tools. Those that have been painted entirely with a brush 
draw their tonal variations from three sources : 
the traces left in the pigment by the brush, 
the angle at which light falls on them, 
and the point from which the onlooker is viewing them. 
For me, that is someting new."

“I was no longer working in black 
but working with the light reflected by the surface of the black. 
The light was dynamized by the strokes of paint. 
It was another world.”

"While painting, as always !
I'd done several paintings that were black on dark grey 
–sometimes mistakenly called "black on black"- 
and I was working on one that was almost black all-over. 
And as I worked on it. 
I noticed I was giving it different values by means of the traces. 
So I went one stage further and started doing paintings with nothing 
but the same black paint. 
And the result was quite different, 
because it was the substance, the texture 
–by means of contrasting reliefs and the brushstrokes- 
which gave this single black colour its tonal values. 
Anyone who walks past one of these paintings sees it come into being, 
sees it built up and transformed, with the light."

"Art is always a matter of mental space. 
This “other” space in front of the canvas creates another relationship to space. 
And a different relationship to time. 
And it gives the work a tremendous presence. 
The notion of presence is enormously important in art. 
When a painting refers to a subject, its presence is weakened. 
A painting has to be present when you look at it… 
What I like is the force of a painting’s presence. …"

“I only think about what I am going to do tomorrow,” he said in French.
“And tomorrow, I want to paint.”

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