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CULTURE

France’s ‘painter of black’: Soulages exhibition opens in New York

An exhibition of French artist Pierre Soulages opened in New York on Thursday just months before his work will be showcased in the Louvre to celebrate his 100th birthday.

France's 'painter of black': Soulages exhibition opens in New York
One of Pierre Soulages striking black artworks. Photo: AFP

Twenty pieces of art, mostly recent works but also several masterpieces from Soulages's eight-decade career, are on view at the Levy Gorvy in Manhattan until October 26.

The oldest is from 1954 and the “painter of black” – still prolific at the age of 99 – made two pieces, which were completed last spring, specifically for the show.


Pierre Soulages has been painting almost exclusively in black since the 1970s. Photo: AFP

The works are an extension of his “Outrenoir” (Beyond Black) style, which Soulages developed in the late 1970s when he took the radical decision to paint almost entirely in black.

Soulages, who was called “the world's greatest living artist” by former French president Francois Hollande, plays with light by painting in thick black lines.


Gallery goers in New York where a new retrospective exhibition has opened. Photo: AFP

“For me it's incredible because I don't know an artist who reinvents himself (like that) again and again. I never feel a repetition in the work of Soulages”, gallery co-founder Dominique Levy told AFP.

Most of the paintings come from private collections or are on loan from museums in the United States. 

Soulages' star rose shortly after World War II and he is venerated in France and much of Europe as the Rothko of black – the “master of noir” – even if his fame has faded in the English-speaking world.

The Louvre in Paris will host a massive retrospective of Soulages, who is now based in Sete on the Mediterranean coast, in December.

None of the paintings featured in the New York exhibition will be on display in the retrospective.

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CULTURE

Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

As France's famed comic book festival in Angoulême rolls on, you might be looking to explore 'bandes dessinées' - we asked the experts for some recommendations if you're a graphic novel novice.

Six French 'bandes dessinées' to start with

Comic books and graphic novels are a cherished tradition in France. When walking into nearly any French bookstore, you are bound to find a section dedicated to them and a quarter of all books sold in France are bandes dessinées.

They’re particularly good for foreigners learning French – as they allow you to follow the story without the pressure of diving into a dense novel.

Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

When researching an article into the popularity of comic books in France, we asked the experts we spoke to for some recommendations to get you started. Here’s what they said;

Les Aventures de Tintin – L’Île noire

You probably already know Tintin and his dog Snowy, so here’s a good place to start reading in French. This comic book series contains 24 albums by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé.

Tintin (pronounced tahn-tahn in French) has served as a foundation for much of the Franco-Belgian bande dessinée tradition, having been published over a period from 1929 to 1976.

The series follows Tintin, a young Belgian reporter, who takes on dangerous cases and travels the world. Les aventures de Tintin has sold at least 200 million copies since its inception, and it has been translated into dozens of languages.

Of the 24 Tintin albums, bande dessinée expert Dr Laurence Grove, recommended starting with “L’Île noire“. He argued that “this is the most important Tintin album”.

The Tintin series has been criticised in recent years following accusations that it portrayed people of colour in paternalistic and racist ways, in addition to publishing stereotypical and defamatory depictions of Jewish people during the pre-war and war period.

Dr Grove did warn that some may choose to avoid the oftentimes outdated comic series in the modern era: “Tintin is problematic, although then Tintin evolves and in the post war period becomes one of the comics to embrace differences and  cultural diversity in a way other comics don’t.” 

Dr. Grove set the “L’Île noir” album apart from other Tintin albums, explaining that in contrast to “when he was colonising wherever he went, in this one he puts on a kilt and goes native. I would say this is where Hergé’s mindset changes”.

The professor of Professor of French and Text/Image Studies at the University of Glasgow said that Tintin is in many ways “the adventure story that is the base for James Bond and Indiana Jones – you can see it through the use of gadgets, planes, trains and automobiles”.

And Snowy the dog? He’s Milou in the French versions.

You can hear The Local’s team talking bande dessinée with the experts in our latest edition of the Talking France podcast. Listen on the link below or download it HERE.

Astérix

Set in 50BC in a village in what is now France, the comic book series of Astérix has marked French generations since it was first published in 1959.

The series focuses on Astérix the Gaul, a warrior who wants to defend his home from invaders. As of 2023, it was the second-best selling comic book in the world, behind the manga One Piece.

Dr Grove recommends that people read Astérix because “you can trace the history of the 20th century and beyond through [it]”.

To the bande dessinée expert – Astérix “acts as a mirror to society from the 1960s and onwards”.

One of the most famous albums is Astérix and Cleopatra, where the hero and his friends seek to help build some important Egyptian monuments – it also became a movie in 1968.

L’Arabe du Futur

This graphic memoir has been referred to by the New York Times as “an essential read”.

It tells the story of French-Syrian cartoonist Riad Sattouf’s childhood growing up in Syria and Libya and later moving to France. The series has been described by many as “darkly funny” and the first volume won the prize for “best graphic novel” at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2015.

The sixth and final book in the series came out in November 2022, and was given the Grand Prix at the 2023 Festival.

READ MORE: France’s big comic book festival returns after more than a year away

Le meilleur des mondes

This edition of Brave New World – or le meilleur des mondes in French – is a twofold adaptation – explored in comic book format and translated into French, this English-language classic is made new again. Interestingly enough, the book was written while Aldous Huxley was living in France for four months.

Reading a classic novel in comic book form is a great way to test your French skills. Less exhausting than trying to get through a long, complex novel, trying out an adapted bande dessinée could be a fun way to push yourself to read in French.

If you are already familiar with the classic, then do not fear: the graphic novel version is equally fascinating, and with its colourful and futuristic drawings, it will surely offer you something new too. 

Zaï zaï zaï zaï

This comic book by the author Fabcaro is a bit abstract by Dr Grove’s own admission, but he calls it the “up and coming bande dessinée of 2023″. 

The story focuses on a person who goes into a supermarket in France and realises he is missing his carte de fidelité (store credit card) and then has to go on the run because he does not conform to society.

Dr. Grove refers to it as a “zany” comic, with an inventive approach to images that hardly move. 

“This is an artist who has not come up through the current channels,” Grove said. “He did lots of advertising online, and now he has become a household name”. The comic has also been made into a play and a film.

Rubrique-à-brac

The Local also spoke with French bande dessinée expert Dr Matthew Screech – senior lecturer of French language and society at Manchester Metropolitan University. 

He recommends the bande dessinée “Rubrique-à-brac” – which is a collection of disparate stories that, according to Dr Screech, lean into French cultural references and history.

The author, Marcel Gotlib – often known just as Gotlib – is known for having a humouristic tone and for drawing in black and white.

According to Dr Screech, “he draws often on French culture and films, other comic strips, folk tales, French nursery rhymes, and he makes good-natured parodies of them”. 

Dr Screech concluded his recommendation by adding that “French comic strips can reinforce notions of identity by bringing the past into the present, and by connecting to the country’s humour traditions”. 

As a result, this comic series a good way for foreigners to explore other facets of French culture and history they may not have been aware of before.

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