Buffet may well be one of the most controversial artists in recent memory: from the inception of his career to the present day, the artist has been considered everything from an overnight millionaire, a popstar and an iconoclast to a recluse; his works have been called everything from challenging and kitsch to taboo to transformative; they have been celebrated, abandoned and celebrated once again. Yet whether Buffet’s works are loved or hated, it is impossible to ignore the fierce response they evoke. Buffet's oeuvre appears as a parade of graphic adventures through a repertoire of macabre yet contemporary subjects, and his images have a confrontational quality that is brutal yet provocative. Thick slabs of paint are applied through the use of a broad palette knife. Coarse, physical and intense, there is a tension innate in Buffet’s works that ultimately imbues them with the power to withstand the test of time.
The clown is Buffet’s most iconic recurring subject, and it profoundly encapsulates the theme of “miserablism” which has long been associated with his art. In many ways the clown stands in as an avatar for—or even self portrait of—Buffet himself. As published in Der Speigel in 1960, “Bernard Buffet, 34, painter of the ‘miserables,’ owner of a Rolls-Royce, whose figures with their elongated proportions are no longer being rewarded by French art dealers in line with the bestseller lists, has painted a 20 sq. m. cinema poster for the ballad of the wide boys, ‘Terrain Vague,’ by that old master among directors, Marcel Carné. The eye-catcher on the façade shows someone wearing blue jeans who resembles the young Bernard Buffet in a stylized downtrodden district of town” (Der Spiegel, November 30, 1960). Indeed, Buffet recognized a sense of his own experience, not to mention the popular zeitgeist of post-war France, in the films of Marcel Carné. This connection is further underscored in Alexander Roob’s essay for a major Buffet retrospective at the Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt/Main, where he notes: “The silent melancholy of the tragic white clown who plays the lead role in Marcel Carné’s film Les enfants du paradis was someone with whom the Parisian population one year after Liberation could identify collectively” (Alexander Roob, “Bernard Buffet: Terrain Vague - Terrain Dangereux,” in Bernard Buffet, Maler, Painter, Peintre (exhibition catalogue), Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt/Main, Frankfurt Maine, 2008, p. 49).
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