Issue 23, Spring 1960
In the filigree of Raphael’s paintings hides a pyramid, indicative of the Classic struggle for stability; in those of Rubens is implied a whirling oval, which speaks of the baroque perpetuum mobile. In this way the work of every artist assembles around a fundamental pattern, revealing both about Him m and about his time, as metal dust gathers along the lines of force of a magnetic field. With Pierre Soulages, that structure is no longer underlying it is not only the substance, but the very subject ot” the work. And so we recognize it clearly the cross, or better, the crossing, the crossroads. Soulages’ material is antagonism of lines, conflict of tones. Yet the final picture has assurance, equilibrium, for it takes its stand—poised rather than put—at the point of convergence and divergence, of momentary meetings.
Victor Hugo’s d)’ing words provide perhaps the neatest definition of Soulages’ work: “Here is fought the battle between night and day.” Its dominant theme, in the paintings as well as the drawings, is the struggle of white and black. The technique employed is rigorously the same in both media. And that technique itself reflects the artist’s will to unite contradictions stiff rectangular strips of leather chase pigment or ink before them across the surface. The same gesture, according to the degree of pressure exerted, conjures up light or dark, which are then caught in the act of, and at the point of, conversion from foreground to back- ground, from background to foreground.
Soulages’ forms likewise offer themselves to us at the crossroads of two natures. They have the weight of masses and the mobility of gestures. They are, so to speak, at once noun and verb. Now if we remember that the essential difference between the abstract art of the prewar and that of the postwar periods is precisely this the former was geometric, static, nominal; the latter is lyric active, verbal—then we shall see that, historically too, Soulages stands at the crossroads. Thus, despite the simplicity of its ingredients, his work acquires gravity through the many resonances which it awakens in us and in our time. And it does so by limiting itself, strictly, to what is the basic purpose of all art perpetuating moments of harmony amidst the discordances of chaos.