A brighter shade of black

Jessica Backus
Nov 21, 2012 4:48PM

Pierre Soulages is known for his use of black paint. He is less interested in creating the matte passages of dark brushstrokes characteristic of Franz Kline's work - to whom he is often compared - and more in moulding a surface that reflects light, or allows it to shine through. He commented on this practice in a recent interview:

One night, I was working on a painting without any success. I was very upset, very unhappy. The painting was black—but nothing worked! I had been working on it for many hours. I thought to myself—I’m not masochistic, so why do I continue if nothing is happening? So I went to bed. An hour and a half later I went back to see the painting—and when I saw it, I looked at it and I said—“that’s it!” I understand. I’m not working anymore with black; I’m working with the light reflected by the black.

His paintings oscillate between deep, caliginous expanses and almost translucent passages of thinned-out black. He may not have been talking about this 1954 painting specifically, but the way the earthy golden tones appear to glow behind a thin layer of black, it is clear that Soulages was already playing with the way color and material react to, or may mimic, various lighting effects.

Read the full interview here.

Jessica Backus