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Pierre Soulages Edit Profile

engraver , painter , printmaker , sculptor

Pierre Soulages is a French painter and printmaker and a major figure in the postwar abstract movement. As such he was a leader of Tachism, the French counterpart to Action painting in the United States, and was known for the severity of his works and his preoccupation with the colour black.

Background

Pierre Soulages was born on December 24, 1919 in Rodez, France.

Education

When he was quite young, he began to draw and paint.

After graduating from high school in 1938, Soulages went to Paris.

He enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts to study painting but quickly became dissatisfied with the type of work that was encouraged at the school.

Career

After seeing exhibitions of works by Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso, Pierre Soulages decided to return to Rodez.

Soulages served in the French army (1939-1940) and then worked as a farmer in Montpellier until 1945. He did not paint during this time, but he read French poetry voraciously. He met the painter Sonia Delaunay and first heard abstract painting discussed.

Soulages's career as a painter began in 1946, when he and his wife, Colette, moved to Paris. Within a year he became known for his bold black-and-white abstractions. Self-taught and independent of any artistic movement, he explored the painter's means of expression and developed his own nondescriptive and poetic style. Abstract painting, which until the war had been a peripheral mode of expression in France, was at this time emerging as the new French style. Soulages was one of the painters responsible for this development.

By 1949, when he had his first one-man show in Paris, Soulages had found the direction his work took in subsequent years. He renounced his earlier calligraphic style with its emphasis on movement and line for a planar and monumental style in which luminous blacks predominate. In paintings like July 4, 1956, typically titled by date alone, Soulages's lifetime interest in Romanesque architecture manifested itself in the massive brushstrokes and planes and in the play of dark against light.

In 1953 Soulages won a prize at the São Paulo Biennial. In 1959 he made a trip to Japan. Although he continued to restrict himself to a classical purity of expression, he gradually allowed color to emerge in his paintings.

After 1970 Soulages began to produce larger compositions and larger-scale works. His later work also included aquatints and lithographs. From 1975 onward he produced several bronzes related to the irregular shapes of the plates used to make his prints. In 1979 he began creating very large paintings that relied for effect on contrasting texture, rhythm, and brushwork.

Achievements

  • Pierre Soulages was one of the major abstractionists of the School of Paris. His work was characterized by broad strokes of paint that created a tonality of light and dark and by a subdued palette.

Membership

American Academy of Arts and Letters