Jean Dubuffet, Café au Damier (train avant d’autobus et deux voitures” (Café au Damier [Front of a Bus and Two Cars]), 1961

Jean Dubuffet, Café au Damier (train avant d’autobus et deux voitures” (Café au Damier [Front of a Bus and Two Cars]), 1961, the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, California


Happy Birthday to Jean Dubuffet, who was born on July 31st, 1901, in Le Havre, France! Dubuffet was the founder of the Art Brut movement, or Outsider Art, which he began due to his frustration over academic approach to art. His interest in the work of Dr. Hans Prinzhorn as a youth also introduced him to the works of the mentally ill, an interest which inspired most of Dubuffet’s mature artistic career. Dr. Prinzhorn, a German psychiatrist and art historian, studied extensively the parallels between art works of mentally ill and children, eventually publishing Artistry of the Mentally Ill in 1922. The book hypothesized it is the primal human instinct, and not intellectual analysis, that connected all living beings. These studies were crucial to Dubuffet’s own outlook on the world and consequently his art. Heavily influenced by works of Jean Fautrier, a French artist working in the Tachisme style, Dubuffet began to incorporate sticks, mud, pieces of glass, sand, and tar, to name a few, into his paint to make it more textured. Tachisme, which was active between 1940s and 1950s, is highly regarded as the French equivalent to American Abstract Expressionism, and was a direct response to Cubism, or more of a rejection of it, trading in geometric forms and linear execution, for more of an intuitive, automatism like presentation, characterized by the familiar drips of paint, scribbling, and spontaneous brushwork we were introduced to in Jackson Pollock’s Abstract Expressionism.  Due to the fact that Dubuffet incorporated so many elements into paint to give it its texture, it is no surprise that the critics did not take kindly to this, often times calling the works “dirty” and “reminiscent of excrement”, however, it is important to note Dubuffet was working in post WWII France, and while the popular notion during the time was to try and see the beautiful in the world, Dubuffet wanted to rebuild society, literally from the dirt up, with his portrayal of everyday people and tasks, as well as urban landscapes and portraits. Dubuffet believed that academic art was pretentious and isolating, and began his search for an art form that was all inclusive, regardless if it is by a skilled artist or a mental patient in an institution, or a child. In 1924, when young Dubuffet took over his father’s wine business, he would study art on his own, having left Academie Julian after only six months of studying there. Dubuffet found beauty in the simple pleasures of life, where music and poetry were at the front runner. Enter Art Brut, which Dubuffet established in 1948 with fellow artists and friends, the Surrealists Andre Breton and Charles Ratton. By this time, Dubuffet began to adopt the Surrealistic automatic drawing, wanting to tap more into his own subconscious and create work in its purest of form. He created much work in the automatic style, a series which he called the Hourloupe, which also served as inspiration for Dubuffet’s sculptures of the later period in his career.  Pictured here is Jean Dubuffet, Café au Damier (train avant d’autobus et deux voitures” (Café au Damier [Front of a Bus and Two Cars]), 1961, the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, California 

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