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Jean Dubuffet


1901-1985

Bio

Jean Dubuffet is born into a bourgeois family of wine merchants in Le Havre on July 31, 1901. In 1918 he leaves for Paris to study painting. There he meets with key figures in the Parisian art scene of that time, like Juan Gris, André Masson and Fernand Léger. After only six months, he leaves the academy, stops painting, develops other interests, travels to Italy and Brazil, marries and starts a wine business.
In 1934, he takes up painting again for a short time, but only from 1942 onwards he fully devotes himself to painting.
With his energetic new language to approach everyday subject matter, Dubuffet is immediately successful. In his 1943 Metro series, he captures people on the Paris underground in bright colours, with crude brushwork and in a deliberately naive drawing style. Here, already, his fascination with what he later calls ‘art brut’ – work by mentally disturbed and children – is visible.
His work impresses the Parisian avant-garde. His first solo show, in 1944, shocks the critics and enhances his avant-garde credentials.
In 1945, Dubuffet begins experimenting increasingly with the texture and materiality of painting. He uses thick oil paint mixed with materials such as mud, sand, coal dust, pebbles, pieces of glass, string, straw, plaster, gravel, cement and tar. Instead of painting in the traditional way, with a brush, Dubuffet creates a paste into which he draws physical marks. Dubuffet dissociates himself from ‘academic art’, and reacts strongly against painting traditions. His aim is ‘not the mere gratification of a handful of specialists, but rather the man in the street’. As a result, his work appears primitive and childlike. It earns him acclaim, but also criticism; there is talk about ‘anarchy’ and ‘scraping the dustbin’.
Due to his relationship with the French-American art dealer Pierre Matisse (the artist’s son), Dubuffet achieves rapid success in America. In 1947, he has his first solo exhibition in New York.
One day in July 1962, while he is on the telephone, Dubuffet makes some doodles with a ballpoint. It is a eureka moment. The interlocking forms with linear shading and a colour scheme that he reduces to black, white, red and blue will become a structuring principle in his work for twelve years – a style he calls ‘Hourloupe’.
Dubuffet dies from emphysema in Paris on May 12, 1985. He is 83 years old, then.

Werk

Mur au moustachu

1945
Lithograph
38 x 28.5 cm

Festival d’Automne à Paris

1973
Lithograph
69 x 52.5 cm