Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Born July 31, 1901, Jean Dubuffet was the son of two wine merchants. He showed an interest in art beginning in high school, and enrolled in evening classes at the École des Beaux-Arts in Havre in 1917. His classmates included Georges Limbour, Armand Salacrou and Raymond Queneau. After his baccalaureate, he moved to Paris with his friend Georges Limbour. He enrolled in the Académie Julian, but did not remain, preferring to work independently. Dubuffet paid visits to Suzanne Valadon, Élie Vascaux, Max Jacob and Fernand Léger. Even so, from the early 1920s he isolated himself. He immersed himself in literature, music, and foreign languages, also travelling to Italy and Switzerland. In 1924 and full of doubts, he stopped painting and decided to follow in the footsteps of his parents. He spent four months in Buenos Aires and upon his return he began to work with his father. In 1930, three years after the death of his father, he founded a wholesale wine business.
A trip to Holland in 1931 reinvigorated his interest in painting. Dubuffet rented a studio on rue du Val-de-Grâce where he began to work every afternoon. He made marionette masks and became interested in ‘the art of the crazy’, which he called Brute Art. He rebelled against museums and institutions. From 1935, he devoted himself entirely to painting, before abandoning it again in 1937. After having taken refuge in Ceret, he took up painting again in 1942.
His former classmate Georges Limbour introduced him to Jean Paulhan. He painted compositions including Les Gardes du Corps, Vingt-et-un paysages and Paysage herbeux et terreux. In 1944, Dubuffet organised his first solo exhibition at Galerie René Drouin, in which he exhibited 55 oil paintings and 24 lithographs. The exhibition was very contested, and his oeuvre was met with much incomprehension. At this time Dubuffet made the acquaintance of Pierre Matisse, an art dealer in New York, who showed his work in the United States from 1947. Simultaneously he also began researching Brute Art. In 1948, he created in the basement of Galerie Drouin ‘le Foyer de l’Art Brut’. ‘Art does not come to sleep in the beds that have been made for it’, explained Dubuffet. ‘It runs away as soon as we pronounce its name: what it loves is to be incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets its name.’
In the late 1940s he began to travel to the Sahara regularly. He sought to find ‘nothing’, and to liberate himself completely from influence. During this period he painted Arabe, chameau entravé (1948) and Paysage blanc (1949).
In 1954, René Drouin organised a retrospective of his work at Cercle Volney. Dubuffet worked on numerous techniques, including ‘emulsified painting’: paintings built up, canvases covered in thick paste. In 1960, a major retrospective of his work was organised at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. In 1963, he began the cycle of Hourloupe, his celebrated drawings mixing red, blue, black, and white. ‘My work proceeding in this style comprises sinuous graphics responding immediately to spontaneous, uncontrolled impulses of the hand that traces them’, he explained. From 1962, he asserts this idea through sculpture. His work continued to be exhibited throughout the world and the writings multiplied. Certain works were installed in public spaces. In 1969, David Rockefeller commissioned from him a monument for Chase Manhattan Bank. He also worked on Coucou Bazar, an ‘animated painting’, shown for the first time in New York in 1973. In 1975, he created the Dubuffet Foundation to which he bequeathed a major portion of his work. He died in Paris May 12, 1985.
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