- Jean Dubuffet
- Le bord du chemin
- signed and dated 56; signed, titled, and dated janvier 56 on the reverse
- oil and collage on canvas
Acquired from the above by the present owner in circa 1960
Max Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule XII: Tableaux d’assemblages, Paris 1969, p. 26, no. 13, illustrated
Bedecked with jewel-like emerald tones, the central band of collage in Le bord du chemin gives the effect of a stained glass mosaic in its shimmering translucency. Appropriating the colour spectrum of a rural landscape, the overall mineral palette reflects Dubuffet’s fascination with the natural world. The rectangular pieces of speckled and pebbled canvas are arranged like puzzle pieces, emulating the variegation of an archetypal countryside through their layering and accumulation. Dubuffet’s experimentation with assemblage began in the summer of 1953, when, following a trip to the Savoie with Pierre Bettencourt, the artist began to produce small collages from butterfly wings. The artist continued his interest in non-art materials the subsequent year, using raw coal and sponges to make a small group of figurative sculptures. Dubuffet’s methods of chance and spontaneity reached its climax in the years of 1955 and 1956, when the artist began preparing lengths of canvas with strongly dense patterns of stains, imprints, and smears: after cutting these canvases into an inventory of random shapes and sizes, Dubuffet would assemble various pieces into landscapes and figures. The artist described his attachment to assemblage: “I can affirm that that technique, for anyone willing to consider it as at least a factor in improvisation and experimentation, as a means of sparking off the imagination… is in all events extremely stimulating and fertile… Moreover, this new technique of assemblage gave me, as soon as I started on it, the impression of lending itself perfectly to treating the subjects that had been so much in my mind… the roadbed, the grasses and little plants pushing through along the sides, the foot of a wall…” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Mildred Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987, p. 12). Furthermore, in its planar compositional division, the present work and works this period, echo the formal economy of his Abstract Expressionist counterparts in the US. Akin to their reduction of painting to the chromatic and formal elements, Dubuffet flattened and compressed pictorial content into bands of colour.
In 1955, Dubuffet left Paris for a house in the town of Vence. Deeply affected by the horrific trauma and ravage caused by war, the artist turned his back on urban life in favour of a rediscovered contact with nature. Motivated by the environment, Dubuffet’s paintings executed in this period took on the seductive appeal of the graphic textures created from naturally occurring phenomena found in the soil and topography of the landscape. His series of Tableaux d’assemblages were prompted by the new environment, as well as his desire to transfer the technique of his earlier butterfly collages to painting. By cutting the canvas directly, he negated the need for pencil drawing and allowed the scissors to dictate the realisation of the composition, often solely by intuition. As Raphaël Bouvier explains of the Tableaux d'assemblages, “The anthropomorphic structure of the landscape and earth… may be read as an allusion to the myth according to which land and the landscape were created by the dismemberment of a monster’s body. In dissecting nature, the artist reveals not only an anatomical and geological perception of landscape, but also a mythological view of its essence. An underlying search for the archaic and the primeval” (Raphaël Bouvier, in: Exh. Cat., Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Jean Dubuffet: Metamorphoses of Landscape, 2016, p. 17).
With its geological strata of collage, the present work beautifully exemplifies the artist’s wholehearted appreciation for his surroundings, as well as the formal and technical liberation that defined his iconic Tableaux d'assemblages.