Jean Dubuffet ( 1901-1985 ) was one of the few artists devoted to ”keeping it real” and this involved a deliberately anti-psychological and anti-personal approach to art.All of his work stands aesthetically somewhere between the beautiful and the awkward, the sophisticated and the mundane, and the sane and the insane, but it all displays intense vitality and humor. His work is a reflection of his advocation of an anti-cultural position and nihilistic spirit, as arose in the context of WWII. Dubuffet also rejected many of the traditional purposes for making art. Critic Gary Panter has referred to Dubuffet’s workk as ”madman…insane art…you can’t compete with nature, children or crazy people” . Yet, Dubuffet’s throwing into doubt previous definitions of art meant he had a clear definition of what art is in order to achieve this goal.
”Savage seems to be the most appropriate description of Jean Dubuffet’s work and life. Like a savage, Dubuffet often shocked society, though he did so purposely. From the start, his attitude was anti-art and anti-culture. He believed that intellectuals were the enemies of art, and he refused to be restrained by such labels as “dadaist,” “surrealist,” or “futuristic.” Dubuffet strove to erase all categories, and in doing so he ironically created a category of art all his own — what he and his fellow artists would term “art brut.” Above all, however, he attempted to create a universal art rooted in simple, organic methods. As a result, Dubuffet’s artwork remains unfettered, real, and tangible. By antagonizing the established art world, Dubuffet created a new language of painting and sculpture to be understood by all.”
Dubuffet’s interest in art brut, the art of the insane, and that of the untrained person, whether a caveman or the originator of contemporary graffiti, led him to emulate this directly expressive and untutored style in his own work. His paintings from the early forties in brightly colored oils were soon followed by works in which he employed such unorthodox materials as cement, plaster, tar, and asphalt-scraped, carved and cut and drawn upon with a rudimentary, spontaneous line. Variations of this method of working preoccupied him until 1962, when he wrote and illustrated a book, L’Hourloupe, in which he evolved a new stylistic and ideological concept for his later work, both paintings and plastic sculpture.
Regarding this ”art brut” or “raw art”: ”It was inspired by the art of children and the insane, which he considered uncontaminated by culture. His idols were Gauguin, van Gogh, and Maurice de Vlaminck, with a healthy dose of Surrealism as well. His 1954 painting, Cow with a Subtile Nose, is typical of his work in this vein. He was especially attracted to the cow, given the turmoil in Europe after the war, by its calm, serene demeanour. “The sight of this animal,” he said, “gives me an inexhaustible sense of well-being…” At a time when the New York School was creating chaos with Abstract Expressionism, Dubuffet, like the rest of Europe after the war, was seeking emotional stability and calm. ( Jim Lane )
The Art Brut with all its savage and vulgar overtones is reminiscent of the theatre of Alfred Jarry and Antonin Artaud; a vernacular that oscillates wildly between high and low art, reality and absurdity. One of his most influential periods was ”Hourloupe”, a meaningless word invented by Dubuffet, containing drawings made with red and blue ball point pens. His intent was to rearrange cityscapes, people and the most familiar of everyday objects into jigsaw-puzzle patterns, to teach the eye to look at things afresh. Art critics searched Dubuffet’s water taps and stoves and scissors for evidence of alienation, and found it. They were after all, said Dubuffet, ”fragmented”; they are labyrinths. There are some complex contradictions in his art that may never be resolved such as te nihilist spirit within a larger search for relevance and to create an aesthetic while being devoid of aesthetic interest;the end of his career was marked by a distancing from the art of assault and cruelty that marked his earlier work.
”Dubuffet relentlessly pursued a practice in which he explored one brilliant idea after another, but without pursuing them to their most extreme outcome. That the artist stood between generations (he was born in 1901 but only began his career in 1942), gives the impression that his work resonated, yet was alien to that of his contemporaries. His paintings make you wonder, for instance, why anyone would bother to graffiti a wall when you could take a picture of one, as Brassaï did; or paint dust (’Texturologies’, 1957-9) when you can ‘raise it’ (Man Ray and Duchamp’s Élevage de poussière, 1920), or even pack it neatly into a box (Robert Rauschenberg’s Dirt Painting, 1953). Why depict a shopping extravaganza (’Paris Circus’, 1961-2) when you can simply create your own shop (Claes Oldenburg’s The Store, 1961)? There are some obvious replies to such questions, but raising them simply points out Dubuffet’s oddness in time and place, an oddness that influenced younger artists concerned with the relation of high art, vulgarity and vernacular expression, including Oldenburg, Julian Schnabel, Keith Haring and Mike Kelley.” ( Sophie Berrebi )