By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
Pierre Soulages, the French most distinguished contemporary artist still alive, was born on 24 December 1919. To celebrate this very special anniversary his hometown, Rodez located in southern France at the foot of the Massif Central, is organizing special exhibitions, concerts, street art events and even highlights its unique gastronomy. All are very good reasons to visit this lovely town and its Soulages Museum that has attracted one million visitors since it opened in this unjustly unknown area since its opening five years ago.
A unique artist
Pierre Soulages always says that is artistic vocation was born in and thanks to his hometown and its surrounding area, Aveyron. Far from the artistic movements that were bubbling up in Paris in the period between the two world wars, Soulages developed his own artistic sensibility at a very young age influenced by Romanesque art and especially Conques Abbey, by prehistory and his discovery of Altamira and Lascaux caves. Away from modern art movements he created his own style where black is the dominant colour. He started his career after WWII with limited resources painting his canvas directly on the floor with house painter’s brushes, making his own tools or using industrial paints… In 1979 he started his world famous “Outrenoir” series, huge black paintings where light plays with the black irregular material spread on the canvas.
A unique museum
In 2005 and 2012 Pierre Soulages and his wife Colette made two donations of several hundreds of works of art to Rodez. This is how the Soulages Museum was born. If there are Soulages’ works in over 90 different museums in the world none of them has as many as Rodez’s museum. Soulages took an active role in the building of the museum. This innovative building made of corten steel looks as if it was bursting out of the hillside on top of which Rodez was first built. The museum is a creation of a Catalan architectural firm, RCR that was awarded with the Priztker Price (the equivalent of the Nobel Price for architecture) in 2017. Tailor made for Soulages’ works the museum also proposes temporary exhibitions dedicated to major contemporary artists such as Calder, le Corbusier or Picasso and to prominent living artists.
All through 2019 Rodez and the Soulages Museum present special events representative of a century of creation. Of course Soulages is honoured in his own museum with an extraordinary exhibition of 118 paintings on paper made with charcoal, walnut stain, gouache and Indian ink from 1946 till 2004.
From 22 June till 3 November we will travel from “Soulages Black to Yves Klein’s Blue” with a special exhibition dedicated to this other French iconoclastic artist. Other temporary exhibitions will be dedicated to digital art with Miguel Chevalier and to Sonia Delaunay’s abstract art.
In Rodez streets monumental “statues” made of big charred tree trunks by Christian Lapie will show the way for an unusual discovery of this ancient town. The Notre-Dame Cathedral will host for a few days next August an impressive light projection on its vault. Looking up visitors will discover Miguel Chevalier’s “Digital Supernova” and face moving and colourful digital constellations. Virtual poetry!
Food is not to be forgotten in this region well known for its gastronomy and its talented chefs. Seven top chefs along with many other local cooks have created special desserts made with three iconic local products, fouace (a kind of brioche made with bread dough, eggs and butter), cheese and gentian. These desserts will be on the menu of these daring chefs and you will be able to taste them in their restaurants for just one year.
To complete your “taste experience” in Rodez go to the “1645 Bar”, a newly open wine and cocktails bar that has created a drink called “Solace” made with gentian, black cherry liqueur, red Martini and a drop of black chocolate liqueur. Dark, bitter and awfully delicious!
Many other events will take place in Rodez’s three museums, streets, restaurants and concert halls till the end of 2019. A great opportunity to discover this appealing region, its beautiful villages and landscapes and its rich cultural life!
Practical information and programming at www.sieclesoulages.fr (sorry only in French)
More about Aveyron at www.tourisme-aveyron.com/en/home
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes