Jean Dubuffet's, Loisir vibrates with colorful energy sparking a visual conversation between the viewer and the ten figures as they interact both within and beyond the borders of the canvas. Late in Dubuffet’s career he was fascinated by theatre and viewed it as a domain for the exploration of the collective memory of the spectators—a constructed scenario where the same presented fact could be interpreted in a multitude of ways according to each audience member’s personal history. Dubuffet explained, “One must not confuse what the eyes apprehend with what happens when the mind takes it in. In any single instant the eyes see only a side facing them, they converge on a small field. The mind totalizes; it recapitulates all the fields; it makes them dance together...Perhaps we live in a world invented by ourselves” (the artist cited in Mildred Glimcher, Ed., Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987, p. 19).
In 1955, Dubuffet left the war-scarred and melancholy city of Paris to live in the South of France. During this period, and exemplified by the Texturologies and Matériologies series, Dubuffet shunned any sense of human presence from his work and turned to nature as the primary source of his investigations. When he returned to the French capital in 1961, there was a change in Dubuffet’s work that marked a completely new departure in contrast to his explorations of the tactile qualities of organic material in the remoteness of rural life in Vence. In a revitalized Paris, Dubuffet found a city completely different to the one he had left; optimism and cosmopolitan bustle had replaced the gloom and despondency that had formerly prevailed under German occupation and in the post-war years. This new vibrant atmosphere was intoxicating for Dubuffet and had an immediate, explosive effect on his work, culminating in the exuberant Paris Circus pictures of 1961-1962. Where he had celebrated life on a minute scale in the countryside, he used his brush to celebrate humanity on a grand scale, transforming this energetic spirit into the subject of his art.
Loisir is a vibrant example of Art Brut, which came to define Dubuffet’s rather raw, expressive approach to painting. Dubuffet strips away all recognizable signs of landscape and city-life, instead allowing the kaleidoscopic figures in reds, blues, yellows, and shades of white to connect like a jigsaw puzzle. The work's title, Loisir, translates to "leisure," firmly locating it within an art historical tradition of portraying figures in a city—often members of the city's bourgeoisie—in their off-duty habitats, enjoying all that life has to give. Much like Seurat’s Sunday on the Grande Jatte there is an instinctual desire as viewers to understand who each person is and how they relate to one another; therefore inventing a world beyond the canvas. The distinct groupings of figures within Loisir remain autonomous yet dynamically interact through suggestive facial expressions, gestures and emotively rooted choices in color. The figures, as in most of Dubuffet’s oeuvre, have subtle individual identities that represent the mass of humanity and have little association with traditional notions of classical figurative art. Just as Seurat's iconic painting captures a moment of respite for the Parisian elite on the banks of the Seine River, so too does Dubuffet's Loisir present Parisians in a recreational moment, though completely stripped of any and all recognizable locations. Loisir expands even further beyond these themes also painted by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger who explored the relationship between figures both within the confines of an interior and within vast landscapes.
Dubuffet was the first among a group of post-war artists to dismiss repressive convention and nurtured the concept of Art Informel, a spontaneous art that rejected any effect of harmony or beauty in a bid to break free of tradition. Dubuffet saw no limits to the expressive potential of painting—the figures are woven together yet remain completely isolated, forcing the viewer to explore and re-explore the dynamic scenario unfolding before their eyes.
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