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Galerie Karsten Greve Paris

PEINTURES 2013 - 2015
October 16, 2015 - January 2, 2016
Press Preview: Wednesday, October 14, 2015, 6 pm
in presence of the artist
Opening: Friday, October 16, 2015, 6 - 8 pm
Mario-Andreas von Lüttichau
In his final group composition, De Staalmeesters of 1662, Rembrandt portrayed the Masters of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild. The function of this body was to assess and inspect the quality and quantity of cloth manufactured, dyed and sold by its members. The seated figure in the centre is the Guild’s chairman. In front of him lies the open record book, in which both the quantity and the assessment of goods produced by members were entered. Black and blue were the customary colourings, and particular attention was paid to the blackness of cloths. The black cloth worn by the Staalmeesters manifests the stringent dictates of quality applied, and Rembrandt’s task, in this painting, was to portray the characters involved in this annual meeting, and its associated motivation. No other artist, either before or after the golden age of Dutch portrait painting, succeeded in producing black with this almost tactile quality, in which variations in the surface lacquer are simultaneously combined with a tone of exceptional depth and density. However, the figures in Rembrandt’s group portrait also reflect an interesting moment in terms of social politics: the individuality of the Master Drapers is eclipsed by the levelling quality of their uniform black clothing. In the midst of a professional organization, Rembrandt stages a leading group as a collective. The insignia of their power are introverted, and are only expressed in the structure and finish of their clothing.
The encrypted underlying structures embedded in black by Rembrandt resurface in the black paintings of Pierre Soulages, which date back to the 1970s, sometimes in dialogue with blue, with lapis lazuli blue, and with delicate traces and invigorating lines in white – in consistent contrast with black in the same way as the dazzling white collars of the Master Drapers. Large-scale black pictures, in series such as the “Polyptychs”, are characterized by their monumental presence, with deep-drawn lines in the thick-layered pigment surface, forming smooth, matt black and brilliant textures, with alternating arrangements of furrows and ridges in horizontal or vertical patterns, or in oblique relief. Soulages describes this radical extension of pure black as “outrenoir”, and talks of the “unique noir de ces peintures noires, ce sont des différences de textures, lisses, fibreuses, calmes, tendues ou agitées qui, captant ou refusant la lumière, font naître les noirs gris ou les noirs profonds”.
Soulages’ precisely-defined lighting scheme in Conques provides a link between the French and the Dutch. The dramatic light-bathed setting of the group composition De Nachtwach, or “The Night Watch” (completed in 1642) shows the riflemen of the Militia Company. The two figures gesticulating to each other in the centre of the picture are the black-clad Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his magnificently-attired Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburgh, stepping diagonally in front of him, whose light uniform creates an illuminating effect. In this composition, Rembrandt proves himself to be a director, who is conscious of the scenic and plastic impact of light upon the players acting on the stage. We perceive the space as a black box, a space which is virtually daylight-free. On the theatrical stage, light assumes a performing function. It defines interactions, and sets them in motion. Soulages shows a similar understanding in the installation of his black paintings. The exhibition space becomes a stage, under the light of which the black paintings assume the form of autonomous sculptures - precisely in accordance with the thoughts of linguistic theorist and essayist Henri Meschonnic: “Les noirs sont la matière de la lumière”. However, the onlooker is confronted with a different category of darkness: the obscure. Unlike the abstract night, the obscure is emotional, and has a mythical dimension. It harbours the desire to penetrate through to the other side - at the risk of losing oneself.
Pierre Soulages, Peinture, 243 x 181 cm, 28 Août 2015
© Pierre Soulages - Photo: Vincent Cunillère

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