Pierre Soulages has been called “the world’s greatest living artist” and is a leading member of the European Abstract Expressionist and Art Informel movements. He is most renowned for creating a painting technique, which he coined Outrenoir (Beyond Black). Artalistic is proud to present you with a short yet in-depth artist biography in celebration of his 100th birthday!

Pierre Soulages: a leading artist & painter

Rodez, Aveyron, France

Pierre Soulages’ artistic career has been marked by countless seminal events: he has created more than 1,700 paintings, set record breaking prices at auctions and opened a museum dedicated to his work in his home town of Rodez, France.

Pierre Soulages was born on December 24, 1919. At the age of 18, he moved to Paris and passed the entrance exam at the school of fine arts. He was disappointed by the teachers’ curriculums and preferred spending time at the Louvre to study exhibitions devoted to Cézanne and Picasso. He decided to move to the suburbs of Paris and exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants in 1947. Pierre Soulages’ art started to gain recognition as his work was displayed in Paris and throughout Europe.  

International renown

Pierre Soulages quickly gained attention in Europe as one of the greatest painters in the world of abstract art. Word of his fame crossed the Atlantic as gallery owners and museums contended to be the next to exhibit his work. Soulages’ paintings were shown in two major exhibitions: the France-America Exhibition in 1950 and The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors at the Museum of Modern Art (1955) in New York. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he exhibited his paintings in museums around the world. Pierre Soulages has lived with his wife Colette in Sète, a coastal town in southern France, since 1959. At the end of 2019, he celebrated his 100th birthday!

An immense body of work

Outrenoir: Pierre Soulages’ signature painting technique

Pierre Soulages was always interested in the color black and created a technique which he coined Outrenoir. In this technique he applied thick layers of black paint and used objects such as rakes, spoons and rubber to work away at the paint to create different textures. This allowed light to bounce off of the surface of the paint, creating different color nuances within the black.

In a 2014 interview he stated, “Outrenoir doesn’t exist in Enligh, the closest is ‘beyond black.’ In French you say ‘outre-Manche,’ ‘beyond the Channel,’ to mean England or ‘outre-Rhin,’ ‘beyond the Rhine,’ to mean Germany. In other words, ‘beyond black’ is a different country from black.”

Pierre Soulages believed that painting is, “Above all a poetic experience. It is a metaphor; it doesn’t allow itself to be explained, it doesn’t even let itself be broached by explanation.” His paintings are void of everything but black, there is no content, shape or form, just black and hints of light created by the varying textures, which make up the black on the canvas. He was careful not to leave anything for the viewer to grab hold of, not even a title; instead he named his pieces by their size and the date they were created. Soulages proudly stated, “I don’t depict, I pictorialize. I don’t represent, I present,” underscoring the fact that his work is not about what it says but the experience it provokes.

A unique technique

In the late 1950s, Soulages became famous for using a scraping technique that was created by Hans Hartung. Soulages placed his canvases on the floor, scrapping them with dark colors. His new style made his work stand out in Parisian galleries. During this period he had several exhibitions in New York, which then was known for setting trends in the modern abstract movement of the time.

Pierre Soulages paintings: experimentation with color

Pierre Soulages' paintings were not just black monochromatic pieces; during the 1950s to the 1970s he painted extremely colorful undercoats on his canvases (ocher, red or brown) covering them in bold brushstrokes of black and then scrapping down to reveal the colourful undercoats. He also created lithographs using bright colors such as blue, yellow and vermilion.

Pierre Soulages’ printmaking

Pierre Soulages is not only known for his paintings, he is also known for his engravings, lithographs, etchings and screen printing, which continued his investigation of light and the play of light on different surfaces.

He completed most of this body of work in his studio in Montmartre, Paris. He experimented with creating texture on copper plates in the hopes of reproducing these topographic nuances on paper, examining the relationship between form and substance.

Pierre Soulages’ most emblematic paintings

Record breaking prices

In 2019 Pierre Soulages became part of a very small circle of living artists who have broken world records for the most expensive paintings on the planet. Pierre Soulages’ painting entitled, Peinture 200 x 162 cm, 14 mars 1960, was sold at one of France’s most famous auction houses – Tajan – for 9.6 million Euros, going well beyond the original estimate of 4 – 6 million Euros. This sale broke the previous world record of 9.2 million Euros, for a painting sold at auction in 2018 in New York at Christie's. Soulages says that he doesn't care about the money, stating, “I still enjoy painting as much as ever. Painting is a way of exercising freedom."

In 2014, Musée Soulages opened in Rodez, France. This museum is dedicated to displaying pieces of his work that represent each stage of his career. The museum also features temporary exhibitions for other contemporary artists.

Pierre Soulages’ art is tangible proof of his statement, "The work is only interesting if it goes beyond the artist who produces it."

Pierre Soulages’ influential paintings were recently featured in two major solo exhibitions at the Louvre and Centre Pompidou in Paris. This article was brought to you by Artalistic - one of the world’s leading websites for selling and purchasing art. Feel free to browse our site, maybe you will find the next star in contemporary art to invest in. Our site features a wide array of different media, including paintings, sculptures, photographs and drawings. Stay in the know with our bi-monthly blog articles about the art world.