Artist Spotlight: Jean Dubuffet

College art history courses tend to tell a very direct trajectory for postwar art: namely that the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe instigated the intellectual and artistic “brain drain” that left a creative vacuum in Europe, enabling America, and New York in particular, to emerge as the cultural hub. Jackson Pollock and his circle dazzled the world with Abstract Expressionism, which soon gave way to American Pop, Minimalism, and so on and so forth.

In contrast to the chauvinism and surrealism favored by postwar American artists, European artists, still surrounded by rubble and ruin, were dealing head on with the existential fallout of the war. For French artist Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), he dispensed with the concept of beauty altogether—beauty seemed frivolous after such atrocities—and created what he called “Art Brut.” Dubuffet’s Art Brut, which translates literally to “raw art,” works highly textured materials like sand, gravel, and plaster into muddy and tar-like surfaces to make what the artist called “matterologies.” These paintings are not psychologically escapist, but rather insist on their own material presence, and, in turn, reify the viewers’ own physical presence and confrontation with reality.

img_3957.jpg
Jean Dubuffet, Portrait of Jean Paulhan, 1946. From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1999.363.20)

This 1946 portrait of the artist’s friend, writer and critic Jean Paulhan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a wonderfully layered image. The childlike rendition of Paulhan’s features underscores Dubuffet’s commitment to “anti-art,” but there is far more complexity to the figure’s expression: Paulhan’s wide eyes, parted mouth and open-armed gesture gives the subject at once a vulnerable—even pleading—look, as well as one of confusion. The gesture is also reminiscent of Christ or apostolic figures in religious painting.

Scroll down to see more works by this amazing modern master.

dubuffet_facades-dimmeubles_1946
Jean Dubuffet, Façades d’immeubles, 1946, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Stephen Hahn Family Collection.
DUBUFFET - Tete de Heros
Jean Dubuffet, Tête de Héros, 1950
Dubuffet - Mele moments 1976
Jean Dubuffet, Mêle moments, 1976, acrylic and collage on paper mounted on canvas

Later in his career, Dubuffet’s palette narrowed onto a predominantly blue, red, and black scheme, and his subjects were typically rendered as you see below: built from flat segments of solid and striped irregular shapes.

Dubuffet - Promenade à deux
Jean Dubuffet, Promenade à deux, 1974, vinyl on canvas, Cranbrook Art Museum, Gift of Rose M. Shuey, from the Collection of Dr. John and Rose M. Shuey (CAM 2002.11)

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