Pierre Soulages’s Ultrablack Paintings: The Matter of Presence

Ananda Shankar Chakrabarty

Abstract


According to the French philospher Éliane Escoubas, the ultrablack painting that the French artist Pierre Soulages has created since 1979 demonstrates the “presence of painting in painting.” While the processual parameters of the ultrablack painting exemplify the emphasis on materiality that has decisively marked much of post-war European art in remarkably varied forms, the most remarkable element of Soulages’s ultrablack works resides in the spectacle of luminous tension induced by the intervallic striae marked in the thick pigment of these paintings. Grounded in a close reading of Soulages’s ultrablack works as well as critical commentaries by art historians, this article proposes that erasures and disclosures of the painterly matter on the surface of the ultrablack painting situate the beholder in presence of a sensorial experience. In rendering present what it holds in its folds, the spectacle of Soulages’s ultrablack painting offers the matter of presence qua seeing.

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