The Jean Dubuffet, Bal des figures exhibition, opening on November 4th and running until December 18th, 2021 at the Parisian venue of Opera Gallery, highlights the work of the leading defender of Art Brut.
Paradoxically, although he rejected the then-prevailing culture, schools, and techniques taught, Dubuffet’s body of work played a major role in the artistic landscape of the second half of the 20th century.
In 1947-1948, Dubuffet spent 6 months in the small oasis of El Goléa, living the life of the desert among the Bedouins. It is during this time that the artist produced a notable number of works which were later grouped under the poetic name “Roses d’Allah, clowns du désert”. A prime example from this series, the present work depicts Dubuffet’s immersion in local culture.
Haute tête en pomme de terre 30–31 août, 1951 is a perfect illustration of the artist’s early work on texture and materiality. There is no willingness to represent a model or to follow the traditional genre of portraiture. The face here is rough, vague and unrecognisable. Dubuffet introduces materiality in his paintings, sculpting the canvas by adding heavy layers of paint of earth-toned colors resulting in an organic character specific to his stylistic vocabulary.
Paysage au chien bleu (November 1952) shows that Dubuffet never ceased to consider art as a field for technical and tectonic exploration, kneading and shaping materials, working on his ‘Texturologies’ through splattering, scrapping or inclusions.
At times punctuated by presences, landscapes are found throughout Dubuffet’s body of work, as he had a constant interest in them. He would later use the vaguer term of Site, then ‘Mire’ and then ‘Non-Lieux’ towards the end of his career. In his Paysage au chien bleu, the canine’s figure blends in with the unusual landscape. The dense matter overruns the space, the ground covering three quarters of the canvas. The execution prevails over the mimetic representation of reality.
Jean Dubuffet began his longest-running series, called L’Hourloupe, in 1962. An expansive body of work that would grow to include drawings, paintings and sculptures, the cycle is typified by free-flowing linear elements and a reduced palette of red, black, blue and white. It found its origins in the casual, unconscious drawings Dubuffet made while speaking on the phone and quickly morphed into a complete universe of characters, settings and dynamics.
Tasse de thé I is the first in a series of large-scale sculptures that depict a cup of tea and its saucer, composed of brightly-colored and interlocking puzzle-like forms, where multiple vantage points converge within a remarkable visual arrangement. Other examples are owned by major museums, such as Tasse de thé II (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and a similar work, Le Verre D’eau II (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.).
In the lineage of the assemblages so dear to the artist, paysage amoncelé is made up of seven separate elements that slot into an eighth larger form. The whole work has an anthropomorphic appearance. The spectator can walk around it and discover the three-dimensional Hourloupian world. The title nonetheless tells us that this heterogenous shape is a landscape, and its reliefs can be broken down into successive planes and are covered in a network of cells and red, blue, or white fields of colour.
Executed in 1966, the present work marks the zenith of Dubuffet’s Ustensiles Utopiques series, in which he celebrated the manufactured mundane objects of everyday life in his signature Hourloupe style, set against the black backdrop. A testament to the importance of the Ustensiles Utopiques cycle, works from the series are held in the collections of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Louisiana Museum of Art, Denmark and Musée Cantini, France.
In 1962, Jean Dubuffet entered a new cycle that kept him busy for the next twelve years: The Hourloupe began with modest ballpoint pen drawings, which transformed into gouaches, then oil paintings, polystyrene sculptures and in the end full-fledged architectural structures, with the construction of an “improbable” villa, the Closerie Falbala, in Périgny-sur-Yerres, south-east of Paris, between 1971 and 1973.
" The result… an awareness of the illusory of character of the world which we think of as real, and to which we give the name of the real world."
Executed in 1972, Le Conjectural embodies the most core ideals of the Hourloupe series, including the sense of play, visual dynamism, and blurring of mediums for which the artist is most celebrated. It perfectly captures the basis of the artist’s underlying ethos, emulating the strangeness, emotion and action of everyday life.
Dubuffet created a series of 175 “praticables” mobile paintings, including The Conjectural and The Maître d’hôtel, made of Klegecell panels covered in stratified resin, and painted with a layer of vinyl paint. Simultaneously characters with whimsical names (Nini la Minaude (Mincing Nini), L’intervenant (The Intervenor), Marie tremblote (Shivering Marie), and elements of the decor, some of the “praticables” are hinged, fitted with small electric motors, and others are fixed. Mounted on a stand with wheels orheld by actors, they could be moved around the stage.
Dubuffet started the Sites – or Psycho-Sites as they would be later known – in early 1981 and worked on this series until 1982, exploring the possibilities of different compositions, and slowly becoming more daring in his colour and personnage combinations. Filled with euphoric energy, this series exemplifies his unique and dynamic interpretation of cosmopolitan society.For the artist, the Sites were a far better way to represent reality than a rigorously rendered, literal depiction of it. As he explained: "[The Sites] heighten the evocative power of the place portrayed… the presence of a human figure gives the place the necessary existence and vitality without which it might remain to the observer merely a network of incomprehensible planes and lines. The figures have the function of a catalyst that triggers the imagination" (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Exh. Cat., Salzburg, Museum der Moderne (and travelling), Jean Dubuffet, 2003-04, p. 252).