“He surrenders himself to a kind of dance. Between each application of paint (black), he takes four steps back, four steps forward, which puts the whole body in play, even the arm that draws in advance the movement of the brush (or even the sole of a shoe) on the canvas, and even his torso which leans, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left” (R. Vailland discussing the present work, in “Comment travaille Pierre Soulages,” in L’Oeil, no. 77, May 1961, p. 46).
Among the significant works purchased by Emily and Burton Tremaine– who amassed a 400-work collection, which was considered among the most celebrated of the 20th-century, beginning with Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie in 1944, shortly after it left the artist’s studio–is Peinture 81 x 60 cm, a stunning counterpoint of contrasting textures, spatial volumes, and gestural brushwork. Purchased by the Tremaines directly from Pierre Soulages’s studio in 1955, Peinture radiates a brooding luminescence, wherein light forces its way onto the surface through vertical striations of greens, maroons, purples and black. Featuring thick glossy verticalities– traces of the dry brush pulled through impasto–this frontal ovoid form consists of myriad upright striations, overpainted with three thick, matte black horizontal bands that create an admixture of textures, light effects and compositional complexity of stunning force.
Achieved through the glistening viscosity of its insistent illusionistic architecture–the sense of an almost cathedral-like apse illuminated by light– Peinture is a poetic statement of signs, a syntax that is formed of parts made whole by the centrality of the image. Like a cubist juxtaposition of planes, Peinture’s textures and colors fade outward toward the edges, dispersing from the central highly dramatic horizontal strokes enacted at its center. The opposition between horizontal and vertical contrasts animates the entire work, which exudes a dynamism and vitality of athletic markings and shifting light values. What becomes clear is that meaning in this muscular work is derived from its lines–color is suffused in the markings, the distillation of bold gestures proclaims a directional force and compositional logic that are one with the material and the form.
Soulages’s concerns are not in the vein of the Abstract Expressionists who sought to project the unconscious onto the canvas. Often aligned with Franz Kline, Soulages’s artistic practice could also be linked to that of Jackson Pollock, for he, too, placed his canvases on the floor, although he nevertheless constructed a wooden harness of sorts so that he might work in the center of canvas without smearing his markings. Yet Soulages refused to be aligned with Pollock, Kline, or others of the heroic American Abstractionist style. “My painting does not tell the story of my dance,” he explained to Roger Vailland, a French novelist and early collector of the artist’s works, who had commented on his fleet movements before the canvas. “I cover and discover the surfaces. I do not draw lines where the people looking at my picture will once more find the movements of my hand... I am telling nothing” (P. Soulages, quoted in Vailland, op. cit., 1961, p. 72).