Fête de nuit characterises Dubuffet’s radical experimentation and engagement with new materials and techniques through the use of heavy impasto, accentuated by the shiny varnish finish. Subverting the idea that traditional materials inspired conventional imagery, Dubuffet transformed the medium by thickening oil paint with sand, glue, gravel or tar, defying its appearance and adding a rich, textural dimension. As the artist reflected, “my connection with the material I use is like the bond of the dancer with his partner, the rider with his horse, the fortune teller with her cards. One can now understand how I feel in coming upon a new kind of coating, and with what eagerness I feel to try it out” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Landscaped tables, Landscapes of the mind, Stones of the Philosophy, 1952, n.p.).
The application of thick matter with spasmodic splashes and scratching, coupled with the dense and hardened impasto, evoke fossilised elements, which engulf the canvas and offer unexpected relief. As Dubuffet reminisced about his works of this period: “my mortar, applied with large dull putty knives, enabled me to provoke systems of reliefs in objects…and lent itself, at the same time, to very realistic effects of rugged and stony terrains. I enjoyed the idea that a single medium should have this double (ambiguous) power: to accentuate the actual and familiar characteristics of certain elements (notably in figurations of ground and soils), and yet to precipitate other elements into a world of fantasmagoric irreality, endowing them with an unknown life, borrowed from other worlds than ours – or the same kind of life, but captured on some of its other levels” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Ibid., n.p.).
Through its innovative treatment of materials and texture, the present work perfectly illustrates Dubuffet’s experimental and eclectic oeuvre and the title Fête de Nuit makes reference to this blurred distinction between reality and the surreal.
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