In the 2014 art world, there is a fine line between high and low art, between trash and treasure and between beauty and the beastly.The more footprints and found objects on a canvas, the more dynamic and appealing the work becomes. For the most part, anything that can be unequivocally placed in the art historical canon of high art is looked upon as static and unimaginative. There is a mounting focus on returning to the roots of art, to the very process itself and expounding on it. Thus, in light of this trend, it is important to turn our attention to one of the first rebels: the father of Art Brut, art of the insane and the untrained, one of the early leaders who stripped art down to its essence and eschewed all traditional standards of beauty and convention. Before Jean-Michel Basquiat’s primitive heads, Dan Colen’s used bubblegum and Oscar Murillo’s dirt-strewn canvases, there was Jean Dubuffet, who questioned the definitions of art and beauty from the very beginning.

Jean Dubuffet at work on a polystyrene sculpture in Paris, June 1967. Photograph by Luc Joubert. © Archives Fondation Dubuffet , Paris. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Born in Le Havre in 1901, Jean Dubuffet was raised by wine merchants. He moved to Paris in 1918 to study painting, briefly attending the Académie Julian; however, because he doubted the intrinsic value of art and culture he decided to leave the institution to paint on his own. In 1924 he abandoned the practice altogether and went home to join his parents in the wine trade. Dubuffet returned to the canvas various times over the course of the 1920s and 30s, but he always struggled to find his line in the language surrounding high culture. Finally when he returned to painting in 1942, Dubuffet attempted to  tap into the unrefined vitality that he felt was lost through formal teaching and extreme discipline. He wanted to ‘unteach’
himself everything that he had learned and to rediscover a potent vision of the world.

Dubuffet’s career was marked by a resistance to classical codes of artistic practice. He favored the commonplace over the rarified and the raw over the refined. As he developed his style and method he looked to the work of untrained artists, children and the mentally ill, and made use of unconventional materials and techniques. Constructing the concept of Art Brut, which is often described as raw art or outsider art, Dubuffet sought to collapse the terms high and low in order to uncover what he believed to be a more authentic and humanistic approach to art. Implementing a crude vocabulary of primitive imagery incised into rough impasto surfaces and media such as tar, gravel, ashes and sand, Dubuffet developed an alternative language to evoke the most basic energy of art. He created an art for the everyday man which was stripped down to its most rudiment elements and untouched by convention, a purity of form and intention, an Art for All.

Jean Dubuffet at work on a paper collage in his studio, December 1970. Photograph by Kurt Wyss , Basel. © Archives Fondation Dubuffet , Paris. © 2014 Artists Right Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP. Paris.

This exhibition is a celebration of this original genius and his democratic dialogue surrounding the structure of fine art. It explores the lines he drew and those he transgressed. Dubuffet was an artist who painted freely and organically, allowing his doodles and physical impulses to transform into figures, often even transcending from one medium to another. In speaking about his acclaimed 1960’s L’Hourloupe series, the artist said, “The works originating in this cycle are in the form of sinuous graphisms responding with immediacy to spontaneous and, so to speak, uncontrolled impulses of the hand which traces them. With these graphisms, imprecise, fugitive and ambiguous figures take shape. Their movement sets off in the observer’s mind a hyper-activation of the visionary faculty. In these inter-lacings all kinds of objects form and dissolve as the eyes scan the surface, intimating the transitory and the permanent, the real and the fallacious.” Jean Dubuffet blurred the line not only between high and low but also between painting and sculpture, real and fake, conscious and subconscious. He made himself difficult to package and impossible to categorize. His writings are canvases, his sculptures are drawings and his masterpieces appear accidental. Regardless of all of this, one thing is for sure: there is no other artist with as fine a line as Jean Dubuffet.