Perrotin Shanghai is proud to present a solo exhibition of works by Pierre Soulages on the occasion of the artist’s 100th birthday. This exhibition is the third show presented by Perrotin in collaboration with the artist after New York in 2014 and Tokyo in 2017. This new exhibition brings together 9 works of his iconic Outrenoir series painted in the last 3 years, one painting from 2010 and a masterpiece from 1986. Simultaneously to his exhibition at Perrotin Shanghai, the Musée du Louvre in Paris will dedicate a solo exhibition to the artist in the prestigious Salon Carré.

The exhibition at Perrotin Shanghai shows the diversity of Soulages’s Outrenoir paintings. From the 1940s to the 1970s, black progressively conquered the surface of his calligraphic-like abstract paintings, which also incorporated subtle hints of colors (mainly ocher and blue). His aesthetics radically shifted towards monochrome in 1979, when he initiated his lifelong series Outrenoir. He has been known as “the painter of black and light” ever since. Literally translating as “beyond black,” Outrenoir opens onto a new realm that transcends purely gestural and monochromatic abstraction. Systematically applied in thick layers on canvas, black paint is meticulously scraped, striated and overall sculpted to create smooth or rough areas reflecting light in various ways. By masterfully turning black into a luminous color, Pierre Soulages further powerfully evokes the Genesis of the world, which came out of darkness.

No other painter has filled as many canvases with a single color. How did black pigment, and black pigment alone, become the means for Soulages to create a major body of work, which the painter was able to renew so many times? Soulages has often stated that, for him, outrenoir is not an optical phenomenon—quite the opposite.

(Pierre Encrevé, extract from "A light in our darkness", published in Soulages in Japan, Perrotin publishing, 2017)

Soulages is not only the most famous living French painter, he is a giant of painting. Today his work is shown in 110 museums around the world and has been exhibited on every continent. Soulages once said that he was truly born from painting. It was in Paris, at the end of the 1930s, that he discovered the masterpieces of Western classical and modern art: at the Louvre, at exhibits of Picasso and Cézanne, and at the Orangerie in the Tuileries, in front of Monet’s Nymphéas. But it was after the war, in 1946, that he effectively became an artist and began his body of work.

After that, everything moved extremely quickly. In a few years, he enjoyed national and international recognition. He exhibited for the first time in 1947, at the Salon des Surindépendants in Paris, where his somber paintings, cutting edge among the typical colorful paintings of the period, immediately caught the eye of renowned art world elders like Hans Hartung and Francis Picabia. The following year, he was chosen to participate in Germany’s first post-war exhibition of French abstract painting, which toured all major German cities. There, he showed paintings of walnut stain on paper and paintings on canvas, of which one piece was chosen by the exhibition organizer for its poster. Soulages soon was the subject of solo exhibitions in Paris, Copenhagen, Munich and, from 1954 on, New York.

His radically abstract painting makes reference neither to images nor to language. It offers neither representation, nor figuration, nor narration, nor message, and yet it is not pure formalism: it accepts that the viewer interprets it freely for himself. An absolutely original body of work, forcefully disruptive, that does not resort to the crutch of a reference, even indirect, to the outside world, either in its forms or its titles, as opposed to many of the informal or non-figurative abstract works of the period. By the same token, Soulages’ oeuvre requires its viewer to address the question of meaning himself. In 1948, on the occasion of the exhibition in Germany, Soulages wrote this striking formula: Painting is an organization, a collection of relationships between forms (lines, colored surfaces) on which the meanings we attribute to it come together and break apart.

Soulages is not a painter of black, as he is occasionally described, but rather a painter of the light that materializes in black paint—and that difference is crucial! Since his childhood, during which he would cover white pieces of paper with thick swaths of black ink in order, as he would say, to ‘paint the snow,’ Soulages has never tired of his fascination with the light he creates using black, and continues to seek out in his most recent outrenoir paintings.

(Pierre Encrevé, extract from "A light in our darkness", published in Soulages in Japan, Perrotin publishing, 2017)

Emerging at the beginning of the 1970s, after 33 years of painting, or right in the middle of Soulages’ activity between 1946 to today, Outrenoir was a profound disruption that inaugurated a new kid of painting, without nterrupting the overall coherency of his oeuvre. As always, since his first works in 1946, and even since his childhood, Soulages interrogated the relationship between light and dark, but from this point on he used the light outside of the canvas, which he considered his own veritable instrument.

Outrenoir refers to a reflected light that is beyond black, transformed by black. Outrenoir is a black that ceases to be black, instead emitting light, a secret light. Outrenoir is a mental space that is beyond mere black. I attempted to analyze the poetry inherent in my own practice as I created these works and explored their relationship to space and time. The light emitted by the canvas projects a certain aura around the painting, and the viewer becomes part of that space. There is an instantaneity of vision, regardless of the point of view from which you approach the painting; as you move around it, that first vision dissolves, disappears, and is then replaced by another. The canvas is present at the moment you see it.

(Pierre Soulages, extract from "Les Éclats du Noir: Entretien avec Pierre Encrevé", in Beaux-Arts Magazine, Hors série, 1996)

Among the numerous exhibitions to present this major evolution on all continents, we particularly recall those of Paris (1979), Salzburg (1980), Copenhagen (1982), Tokyo (1984), Melbourne (1989), as well as those of Seoul, Beijing and Taipei (1994), Paris, Montréal and São Paulo (1996), Saint Petersburg and Moscow (2001), New York (2005 and 2014) and the great retrospective at Centre Pompidou in Paris (2009).

Since 2004, Soulages no longer works with oils, but with resins that provide him thicknesses of paint that he had never before attained. A new kind of work with light, via reflection, appeared: on the peaceful clarity of a vast surface of solid black, he engraves one or two very deep scarifications, sensual wide gashes, in which a vivid light settles to further accentuate the mystery. Most recently, Soulages has used the contrast between glossy or semi - glossy black and matte black, offering never before seen views of pictorial light.

With ‘outrenoir’, Soulages recently stated, the viewer is much more implicated, much more alone. I think that I make paintings so that anyone who looks at them, whether it’s me or anyone else, can find himself in front of a painting, alone with himself. Soulages’ painting, whether on canvas, on paper or expressed in stained glass, in representing nothing, and reflecting nothing, reflects myself back to me. Because it calls for no decoding, no imposition of meaning, it invites me to constitute meaning in myself.

(Pierre Encrevé, extract from the lecture by Pierre Encrevé, October 19, 2010 in Rodez, published in its entirety in The Soulages Notebooks, Soulages Museum, September 2015)

The radical originality of Soulages’s outrenoir consists in creating works that are entirely painted with black pigment, yet do not appear monochromatic to the viewer. I’ve called them ‘mono-pigmentary paintings with a chromatic versatility’: in these works, black is no longer a color but rather appears as the source of the light that strikes it, adopting the colors that its environment gives it.

(Pierre Encrevé, extract from "A light in our darkness", published in Soulages in Japan, Perrotin publishing, 2017)

What I consider real light is not optical, physical light; the light that affects me most profoundly is another type of light, one that emerges from the shadows... What’s important is the light that comes from the darkness, from the darkness that we each have within us. The light that moves me is the light of the night, the night that we each carry within ourselves.

(Pierre Soulages in conversation with Pierre Encrevé, January 12, 2013 and November 22, 2013, published in Soulages in Japan, Perrotin publishing, 2017)