Recognized as the artist’s largest and most sustained series, L’Hourloupe occupied Dubuffet’s artistic output from 1962 to 1974; during this twelve year period, the artist produced some of the most visually captivating and richly imaginative paintings of his career. Dubuffet fashioned the fanciful name of the series himself, fusing multiple French words to create the sonorously luxuriant term “L’Hourloupe;” asked about the series, Dubuffet revealed that the word was “based upon its sound. In French, these sounds suggest some wonderland or grotesque object or creature, while at the same time they evoke something rumbling and threatening with tragic overtones. Both are implied.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, Exh. Cat., New York, 1973) The creative origin of the L’Hourloupe lies in a series of sinuous, simplistic doodles in ballpoint pen, created absent-mindedly while the artist spoke on the telephone. In its sensuously undulating outline and polychromatic crosshatching, Le Bateau II articulates the playful inception of the series as, fueled by a endlessly inventive wealth of creativity, Dubuffet rendered the imaginative forms and figures of his subconscious on the canvas. He further removed the works of L’Hourloupe from the everyday world by radically reducing his palette to saturated zones of red and blue, contoured by sinuous black lines against a luminous white ground; the overall effect is one of utter absorption, enveloping the viewer in a mesmerizing web of densely interlocking figures, patterns, and forms.
Painted in August of 1964, Le Bateau II dates to the critical moment of L’Hourloupe’s sensational explosion onto the international art world stage. In June of 1964, the Palazzo Grassi in Venice mounted the first eponymous exhibition of paintings and drawings from the series; in the following months, exhibitions of L’Hourloupe would follow in Paris, New York, and numerous other cities worldwide. Created mere weeks after the inauguration of the Venice exhibition, the form and title of Le Bateau II suggest the influence of the watery city’s intricately winding network of boatways upon the artist’s imagination. In Le Bateau II, however, as in other key examples from the earliest years of the series, the boundaries between Dubuffet’s earlier, distinct themes of landscape, object, and figure dissolve; despite the direct title of the present work, Le Bateau II is neither fully abstract nor definitively representational. In the catalogue for an exhibition of L’Hourloupe works at Galerie Jeanne Bucher in 1964, Dubuffet remarked, “I find painting uninteresting if it does not offer sights that the painter wishes to see and that he has no chance of encountering if he does not make them up himself. Ultimately, far from painting what he sees, as a certain uninformed public assumes, the painter is right only in painting what he does not but hopes he may see.” (The artist cited in Marc Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternate Reality, New York, 1987, p. 211) As if in answer to the artist’s claim, Le Bateau II bursts from Dubuffet’s imagination to engulf the viewer in a dazzling fusion of color, pattern, and form, allowing each of us a brief voyage in the fantastic parallel world of L’Hourloupe.
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