Jean Dubuffet

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In April 2015, MoMA in New York exhibited an interesting monographic presentation of a unique artist which illuminated his radical experimentation with form and material. The presentation was called Jean Dubuffet: Soul of the Underground. A very fitting title for an artist who was a born rebel and marched only to his own band. From the very beginning Dubuffet had an issue with answering to authority, he disliked notions of high culture, beauty and good taste. Instead Dubuffet was attracted to the ugly hidden nature of life and humans, or even the most mundane of things. From a crack on the pavement to the patch of yellow wilting grass, or some crushed debris all according to Dubuffet were worthy of admiration. The French painter, printmaker and sculptor was drawn to images of tragedy, savagery, passion violence and in certain cases even madness.

Jean Philippe Arthur Dubuffet was born in 1901 in La Havre France to a wealthy family of wine merchants. Being the ultimate rebel that he was he left home at the age of 17 to join art school which also didn’t meet his expectations, and to no one’s surprise he quickly left and self-taught himself art. His admiration of art even made him travel to Italy and Brazil, interestingly side by side art Dubuffet developed several other interests like wine making, writing, poetry and studying other languages. Dubuffet also became fascinated with painting children and the mentally ill, he in fact became a strong crusader for raising the profile of mentally handicapped people in France. His 1947 painting titled Grand Maitre of the Outsider is an instant classic. Though it did cause its fair share of controversy – as many believed Dubuffet painted this after he saw a corpse – it is quite astounding for the viewer when they first lay eyes on it. The painting is a thick unicolor surface which showcases a crudely shaped almost human form. It’s almost as if it’s a parody of a portrait. It is filled with Dubuffet’s graphic style and the surface is often jarring as well. Despite the raised eyebrows the painting is considered to be a masterpiece. The way Dubuffet used to attack the surface of his paintings is legendary, mixing sand grave and various other materials into his color palettes and applying them with his hands and a sharp knife. For many art lovers Dubuffet paid so much importance to the surface because that was what gave the painting the touch of being ‘real.’ Some even argue that certain works like Grand Maitre were Dubuffet’s way of showing his loss of faith in humanity, especially after the war. He didn’t like the way the face of humanity changed, his art became a way of him portraying those emotions. That’s why he found solace in painting mundane objects more than humans.

Jean Dubuffet even revolutionized the form of lithography; he used to attack the lithographic stones with rags, various chemicals and sandpaper. He even experimented with creating images from fruit peels, leaves, rubbish, dirt and other organic materials. Dubuffet was also a master of reconstruction, he was inspired by the Earth’s surfaces and natural forces, and used as many natural components as he could to construct and collage images together. Later on he used to dismantle them add something new and put them together again.

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