Painting 72.5 x 81 cm, 3 May, 1985, is characteristic of Pierre Soulages’ research in the mid-1980s which focused on the juxtaposition of different treatments of the pictorial layer. The streaks interact with the light to reveal the gloss of the material while the solid areas express its mattness. This play of contrasts is typical of the Outrenoirs, hence the term “black light” coined by Soulages to describe what he began exploring in 1979. The Outrenoirs demonstrate the pictorial layer’s capacity to produce reflections and are an exploration of using light as a material.
This painting was done on a linen canvas, mounted on a frame and primed with a thin coating of black gesso to strengthen the mono-pigmented character of the paint layer. The latter is made with ivory black, oil, resins and a siccative made of lead that makes it possible for the thickly applied oil to dry.
Pierre Soulages first covered the entire canvas using this dark paste and then streaked diagonally from top to bottom with a coarse bristle brush. These streaks, which are deep at the top of the canvas, fade in the lower part where the painter applied less force. They were then smoothed using metal or rubber blades. In this way, Soulages made three parallel horizontal stripes, from one edge to the other, defined by the small reliefs created by the angles of the instrument. The force he applied to the blade created varying depths to the streaks. The upper band, which differs from the other two by the almost complete erasure of the streaks, creates a large solid black matte with a few horizontal grooves, presumably due to some irregularities in the painting material.
In the oeuvre of Pierre Soulages, the context for the creation of the painting corresponds to his realisation of monumental polyptychs, in particular a series of nine nearly-square polyptychs he painted between 1985 and 1987. This particular tableau is part of a set of six small paintings made by the artist between April 21 and May 5, 1985. All have streaks angled towards the left, overlaid horizontally as wide flat strips. These bands assume the form of various horizontal elements that compose polyptychs, while not requiring the assembly of independent frames.
We are invited here to experience an ongoing renewal of our perception of an Outrenoir according to variations in ambient light and our position in relation to the tableau.