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Artists Jean Dubuffet
Jean Dubuffet Photo

Jean Dubuffet

French Painter, Printmaker, and Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Art Brut, Art Informel

Born: July 31, 1901 - Le Havre, France

Died: May 12, 1985 - Paris, France

Jean Dubuffet Timeline

Quotes

"Look at what lies at your feet! .. A crack in the ground, sparkliing gravel, a tuft of grass, some crushed debris, offer equally worthy subjects for your applause and admiration."
Jean Dubuffet
"For me, insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity."
Jean Dubuffet
"Unless one says goodbye to what one loves, and unless one travels to completely new territories, one can expect merely a long wearing away of oneself and an eventual extinction."
Jean Dubuffet
"In the name of what - except perhaps the coefficient of rarity - does man adorn himself with necklaces of shells and not spider's webs, with fox fur and not fox innards? In the name of what I don't know. Don't dirt, trash and filth, which are man's companions during his whole lifetime, deserve to be dearer to him and isn't it serving him well to remind him of their beauty?"
Jean Dubuffet

"Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness."

Jean Dubuffet Signature

Synopsis

Jean Dubuffet disliked authority from a very early age. He left home at 17, failed to complete his art education, and wavered for many years between painting and working in his father's wine business. He would later be a successful propagandist, gaining notoriety for his attacks on conformism and mainstream culture, which he described as "asphyxiating." He was attracted to the art of children and the mentally ill, and did much to promote their work, collecting it and promulgating the notion of Art Brut. His early work was influenced by that of outsiders, but it was also shaped by the interests in materiality that preoccupied many post-war French artists associated with the Art Informel movement. In the early 1960s, he developed a radically new, graphic style, which he called "Hourloupe," and would deploy it on many important public commissions, but he remains best known for the thick textured and gritty surfaces of his pictures from the 1940s and '50s.

Key Ideas

Dubuffet was launched to success with a series of exhibitions that opposed the prevailing mood of post-war Paris and consequently sparked enormous scandal. While the public looked for a redemptive art and a restoration of old values, Dubuffet confronted them with childlike images that satirized the conventional genres of high art. And while the public looked for beauty, he gave them pictures with coarse textures and drab colors, which critics likened to dirt and excrement.
The emphasis on texture and materiality in Dubuffet's paintings might be read as an insistence on the real. In the aftermath of the war, it represented an appeal to acknowledge humanity's failings and begin again from the ground - literally the soil - up.
Dubuffet's Hourloupe style developed from a chance doodle while he was on the telephone. The basis of it was a tangle of clean black lines that forms cells, which are sometimes filled with unmixed color. He believed the style evoked the manner in which objects appear in the mind. This contrast between physical and mental representation later encouraged him to use the approach to create sculpture.

Most Important Art

Jean Dubuffet Famous Art

The Cow With The Subtle Nose (1954)

Dubuffet's heady experience in the country and rejection of art education is evident in this painting. The heavily textured surface depicts a cow, rendered in the childlike innocence of patients held in psychological facilities. The uninhibited, savage approach to the canvas exemplifies the concepts of what Dubuffet termed Art Brut - the image seems entirely unschooled in the traditions of landscape. The image is thus at odds with the notions of "high art," and approaches art making from the direction of artistic purity uninfluenced by cultural advancement. Going a step further, Dubuffet suggests how "cultural" and "savage" approaches to art together work to reaffirm civilization as a whole.
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Jean Dubuffet Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Jean Dubuffet was born on July 31, 1901, in Le Havre, France, into a middle-class family that distributed wine. Although he was well-educated, he came to reject his studies, preferring to educate himself by reading the work of Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, who drew comparisons between the art of asylum inmates and the artwork of children. Based on these observations, Prinzhorn stated that it was savagery, or base animal instinct, that lead to universal harmony, arguing that it was the primal instinct, not intellectual theory or analysis, that connected all living things. This concept had a strong influence on Dubuffet's later career.

Early Training

Jean Dubuffet Biography

In 1918, Dubuffet moved to Paris where he studied painting at the Académie Julian. Dubuffet thought of himself as savage in comparison to the intellectuals at the art academy. Rebelling against the institution, Dubuffet took a stance that was anti-art and anti-culture, for example, refusing to be constrained by categories like "Surrealist" and "Futurist." After attending classes for six months, he withdrew from the academy, deeming his studies useless. In 1924, Dubuffet took over his father's wine business and continued to study on his own. He found solace with the common, everyday people of the country and believed there was meaning in living a simple life with a focus on music and poetry. It was not until 1942 that Dubuffet decided to return to painting where he could explore this fondness for quotidian life and the interiority of human emotion.

Mature Period

Frustrated by intellectual approaches to art, Dubuffet continued to admire the artwork of asylum inmates and children. In attempting to recreate what he saw as their uninhibited style, he chose to paint in seclusion where he could experiment with new methods and concepts, unfettered by theory or popular trends.

Jean Dubuffet Photo

Heavily influenced by the paintings of Jean Fautrier, Dubuffet began to take a similar approach to the texture of his paint, combining sand, gravel, tar, and straw to his paintings to create a thick emulsion. The mixtures created a highly textured surface, providing the ideal ground for his raw, primal figures. As Dubuffet became increasingly obsessed with texture, he began to drastically limit his palette, focusing on dark, monochromatic surfaces and figures.

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Jean Dubuffet Biography Continues

Dubuffet's subject matter featured the surrounding countryside, including childlike depictions of cows and milkmaids, but shifted to focus on urban landscapes and city dwellers. Although he created many portraits based on urban individuals, he chose to depersonalize them, exaggerating features and proportions to create grotesque caricatures, challenging cultural standards of beauty, traditional academic notions of realism, and the more contemporary obsession with non-objective art. What is most striking about his work from this period is his deliberate evocation of ugliness. Dubuffet did not believe in the separation of the beautiful and the ugly, and, as such, declared that ugliness did not exist. He expressed this in many of his paintings, including the series of portraits Hautes Pates (c. 1945), which was exhibited in 1946 at the Galerie Rene Drouin.

In 1948, Jean Dubuffet joined with Surrealists André Breton and Charles Ratton to establish Art Brut, or outsider art, a style of image-making modeled after the art collection of Dr. Prinzhorn. The primitive, childlike approach to art was an alternative to the conventional art world aesthetic, and the return to figuration was a deliberate about-face from the abstract, non-objective canvases of his contemporaries.

Late Period

Jean Dubuffet Portrait

Dubuffet continued to challenge aesthetic boundaries through experiments with materials and through style. In his later career, he created some of his most important work, gravitating toward the tools used by the "common man," such as ballpoint and felt tip pens. Dubuffet's style began to accommodate Surrealist notions of automatic drawing, seeking to tap directly into his subconscious. He would begin with simple scribbles on paper and finalize the work with flashes of red, blue, white, and black. This approach allowed Dubuffet to break away from objectivity and, he believed, to arrive at art in the purest form. In 1962, Dubuffet titled these paintings the Hourloupe series.

From 1966 to his death, Jean Dubuffet would use the Hourloupe series as inspiration for several large-scale sculptures. These sculptures are comprised of papier-mache and polystyrene, many of which are large enough to walk through.


Legacy

Until his death in 1985, Dubuffet was exhibited in retrospectives and exhibitions around the world. Rebelling against art, culture, and intellectualism, Dubuffet was instrumental in establishing the style of Art Brut, an aesthetic of his own that was devoid of the traditional standards of its time, both in style and subject matter. His primitive approach to art making, with its simple, childlike figures and bold, visually dramatic palette, has universal appeal and is instrumental in modern psychology and studies of mental development.

The artwork of Jean Dubuffet continues to be exhibited and collected by The Dubuffet Foundation, represented by the Pace Gallery in New York City.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Jean Dubuffet
Interactive chart with Jean Dubuffet's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Jean FautrierJean Fautrier
Edvard MunchEdvard Munch
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso

Friends

Hans PrinzhornHans Prinzhorn
Max JacobMax Jacob
Jean PaulhanJean Paulhan
André BretonAndré Breton
André MassonAndré Masson

Movements

CubismCubism
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
ExpressionismExpressionism
SurrealismSurrealism
Jean Dubuffet
Jean Dubuffet
Years Worked: 1942 - 1985

Artists

Jean-Michel BasquiatJean-Michel Basquiat
Julian SchnabelJulian Schnabel
Georg BaselitzGeorg Baselitz

Friends

André MassonAndré Masson
André BretonAndré Breton
Antonin ArtaudAntonin Artaud
Jean PaulhanJean Paulhan

Movements

Art BrutArt Brut
Neo-ExpressionismNeo-Expressionism
Pop ArtPop Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Larissa Borteh

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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Useful Resources on Jean Dubuffet

Books

Websites

Articles

Audio

Videos

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Jean Dubuffet: Works, Writings, Interviews

By Valerie Da Costa, Fabrice Hergott, Jean Dubuffet

The Work of Jean Dubuffet, with texts by the artist Recomended resource

By Peter Selz, Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality

By Jean Dubuffet, Mildred Glimcher

Dubuffet Prints from the Museum of Modern Art

By the Museum of Modern Art, New York

More Interesting Books about Jean Dubuffet
Dubuffet Foundation Recomended resource

Features an In-Depth Biography, Images of Works

MoMA: Jean Dubuffet

Includes Images and Analyses of Dubuffet's Works from the MoMA Collection

Jean Dubuffet

By Sophie Berrebi
Frieze Magazine
January - February 2002

The French Establishment Salutes a Dedicated Rebel Recomended resource

By Alan Riding
The New York Times
October 23, 2001

Jean Dubuffet, Giving Pleasure Despite Himself

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
July 4, 1993

UbuWeb Sound - Jean Dubuffet

Provides Audio Files of Coucou Bazar Turin, Musique Brut, and Musical Experiments by Dubuffet

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