The founder of Art Brut, Jean Dubuffet (1901 – 1985) was a painter, sculptor, and printmaker born in Le Havre, France. In 1918, Dubuffet studied for a brief period at the Académie Julian in Paris but by the mid-1920s he had given up painting. During this period, he worked in industrial drafting and later in his family’s wine business. In 1942, Dubuffet re-dedicated himself to his art career.
Dubuffet began collecting what he called Art Brut, or in English ‘raw art.’ These were expressive works by those outside the academic tradition of fine art such as children, the mentally ill, prisoners, and others whose artistic vision or emotions were untrammeled by convention and were thus a purer form of art. To promote it, he founded Compagnie de l’Art Brut with writers and critics involved in the Dada and Surrealism movements and wrote a manifesto on the occasion of the first public exhibition of Art Brut in 1949.
In his own art, he strove to emulate this unschooled expression, creating works by carving, incising, and drawing on unconventional surfaces made of tar, sand, cement, asphalt, and other materials. In the 1960s, he began making architectural structures and monumental public sculptures. Later, he also designed theater props called “practicables.”
Dubuffet also created a substantial oeuvre of graphic artworks. As with his other work, his prints were often made in unorthodox ways, taking imprints of the surfaces of various objects. In the lithograph Vegetation (1953), for example, he impressed a number of plants onto the printing surface. As part of his graphic work, Dubuffet was deeply involved with the making of books. Throughout his career, he created or contributed to roughly 40 books. Dubuffet’s collaborations with authors include Matière et Mémoire ou les lithographes à l’école (1944-5) by Francis Ponge and …le flux même… (1974-6) by Jacques Berne, illustrated with lithographs and screenprints respectively. He also created works of his own conception such as Ler Dia Canpane (1948), featuring stenciled text and engravings made on linoleum and wooden boxes, and Couinque (1963), featuring his writing plus seven etchings on celluloid. Late in life he made a nineteen-foot scroll, called Parcours (1981), printed on silk, backed with paper, and housed in an illustrated wooden box.
From the 1950s on, Dubuffet’s art was featured in many exhibitions internationally. In 2001, the Centre Georges Pompidou held a major retrospective of Dubuffet’s art.
Books by Jean Dubuffet available from Boreas Fine Art:
Dubuffet, Jean. Parcours. [ New York ] : Pace Editions. 1981.
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