On an immaculate grained surface, he creates imperfections, effects with the material that have never been seen before with lithography, a technique which opens up a whole new range of unexpected shades, to the uniform black of lithographic ink. An approach that allows him to create some surprising images.
Jean Dubuffet was born on the 31st July 1901 in Le Havre. After high school he joined the fine arts school in the city, and then after his baccalaureate, was granted a place at the Académie Julian in Paris. He left quickly and decided to look for his own path. Western art was not for him. It was only in 1942 that he truly devoted himself to his career, after working for the family wine trading business. He then decided to devote his life to painting.
His first lithographs date from 1944. He created more than 1,500 of them, many of them for illustrated books. This huge output even revolutionised the world of lithography. Matière et Mémoire, his first set of lithographs, highlighted experimentation with textures and surface, with a series of 27 plates. He engraved on lithographic stones with sandpaper, rubbed them with cloth and used rather unconventional materials to achieve a multitude of different effects. He therefore produced a whole range of fascinating shades on this uniform black.
He made his mark on art history in 1945, when he named a type of art he had been collecting since 1922, Art Brut (Outsider Art), or art created by the mentally ill and outsiders. He travelled to Switzerland and did some research on the topic. He founded the Foyer de l’Art Brut in 1947, to house his collection. The following year, he published his first text using phonetic jargon, entitled Ler de le canpane. In 1949, a catalogue entitled ‘L’art brut préféré aux arts culturels’ was exhibited. In 1951, his collection was sent to the United States, to painter Alfonso Ossorio. It was then returned to France in 1962, to Rue de Sèvres, as Jean Dubuffet had purchased a building to house his 1,300 Art Brut pieces.
In 1964, Dubuffet exhibited his recent work at the Palazzo Grassi for the Venice Biennale. He explored city life and crowds, bright colours and sinuosities. This series includes paintings, colourful ink, sculptures and assemblies, all brought together under the name L’Hourloupe.
From 1966, he moved on to more voluminous creations, objects and then buildings. The artist called his sculptures and installations ‘Peintures monumentées’ (three-dimensional painted sculptures). This creation of volume was a turning point for his work, with some mouldings made from coloured polyester. He expands the image, abandons oil for the use of vinyl paint or markers. He learned how to use polystyrene, polyester or epoxy resin, sprayed concrete and polyurethane paint.
Another iconic work, Coucou bazar, was exhibited for the first time at a retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1973. This ‘animated painting’ includes a set of ‘practicables’ from the L’Hourloupe sculptures. It is a ballet of sculptures, paintings and hatched costumes, performed to electronic music by Turkish composer İlhan Mimaroğluu, with choreography by Jean McFaddin. Dubuffet has invented a sort of ‘commedia dell’arte’ whereby the actors are his own sculptures, in the hatching style of hourloupe. It resembles a sort of oversized ‘Guignol’ puppet, and every section moves very slowly. The dancers are seemingly teasing one another, concealed behind the practicables, and perform a sinister dance for a forgotten audience, combining the art of ceremony and Noh theatre art. It was repeated at the Grand Palais in Paris, with a second version of the show.
1973 was also the year he established his own foundation. To safeguard the conservation of his work, he had already made a sizeable donation to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1967.
In 1981, to mark his 80th birthday, exhibitions were devoted to him at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
He represented France at the Venice Biennale in 1984, and the following winter, he drew and wrote Biographie au pas de course with haste. He passed away on the 12th May 1985 in Paris.