The neologism d’outrenoir describes very poignantly Pierre Soulages repetitive mantra that he has been painting incessantly since April 1979. D’outrenoir forms the largest series within the oeuvre of the artist embodying a pictorial adventure in which the expression and the qualities of light are systematically being investigated. Contrary to what might look at first sight as a plain black canvas his d’outrenoir paintings are birthplaces of new pictorial spaces that eventually, depending on the intensity of light and the viewing point of the beholder, create a novel physical reality and a unique sensory experience that celebrates light.
After having moved to Paris in the aftermath of the Second World War Pierre Soulages started creating abstract earth toned and black compositions that echoed his fascination with calligraphy, Celtic art and the recently discovered caves of Lascaux. The preoccupation with dark colours formed a sharp contrast with the mainstream aesthetic in the post-war era that fashioned colourful semi figurative subjects.
In 1948 the artist participated in several exhibitions in France and Germany like the groundbreaking travelling exhibition “French abstract Painting” that started in Stuttgart and visited 10 cities throughout Germany (with the exclusion of Berlin). Together with his participating contemporaries Hans Hartung and Georges Matthieu Soulages counted to the first representatives of Informalism or Art Informel that flourished parallel to Abstract Expressionism in the US, CoBra in Europe and Gutai in Japan.
Collectively the artists rejected the traditional conception of painting in which a work of art is derived from the study of reality or from geometrical abstraction. Their aesthetic approach embodied rather abstract forms of expression void of any preconceived ideas, a spontaneity of gesture and the inclusion of automatism.
Pierre Soulages describes his preoccupation with the colour black as follows:
‘Black … has always remained the base of my palette’. ‘It is the most intense, most violent absence of colour, which gives an intense and violent presence to colours, even to white: just as a tree makes the sky seem more blue’
(P. Soulages, quoted in J. Johnson Sweeney, Pierre Soulages, Neuchâtel 1972, p. 13).
The obsessive use of black is closely interlinked with the artist’s fascination with the aesthetic properties of light. Instead of standing in front of a painting and analyzing its content, its composition and the colour palette, the beholder is confronted with the complex and mysterious nature of light. Creating reflections that differ in rhythm depending on the light source, the time of the day and on the qualities of the surface plane as such.
The pictorial planes or pictorial spaces as Pierre Soulages calls them consist of carefully build layers of added colour, volume, texture and impasto. With the use of rakes, spoons and brushes the artist is making scraping, digging, grating or etching movements in the thick luscious layers of paint. These intermissions on the surface evoke an instantaneous perception of light caused by the capturing and the refusal of light on the textured surface.
Depending on the surface plane the effect on the beholder can differ from a meditative state of serenity, to energizing to creating tensions. Essential in all his works is the art of seeing which awakens mindfulness and raises consciousness expanding further by getting involved in the painting. In his d’outrenoir paintings the dichotomy between light and dark is being lifted. Suddenly black can capture light and produce shades of white and grey transforming a colour that embodies the absence of light into an aesthetic transcendental experience.