Conceptually, the Théâtres de mémoire series – of which the present work is a quintessential example – refers to Giulio Camillo’s “theatre of memory,” a sixteenth-century theory mapping the development of memory through an imagined physical space, which Dubuffet discovered from Frances Yates’s seminal 1966 book, The Art of Memory. Following several highly prolific years, the artist found his studio strewn with jumbled layers of drawings and paintings, creating random juxtapositions of figure and ground that inspired him to combine the various images into original works. By situating existing images into entirely new configurations, Dubuffet illustrated Yates’s core tenets of how place and image solidify memory in a pictorial space. Of this ambitious series, Dubuffet remarks: “These assemblages have mixtures of sites and scenes, which are the constituent parts of a moment of viewing. Viewing by the mind, let us say, if not the immediate viewing by the eyes… The mind totalizes; it recapitulates all fields; it makes them dance together. It shuffles them, exchanges them, everything is astir… There is a great loss in what the eyes have caught when the mind gets hold of things. There is also a great addition; for the mind has quickly transfigured, substituting its own images for the ones it receives, mingling its own secretions with what the eyes send it.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Pace Gallery, Jean Dubuffet: Théâtres de mémoire, March – April 1977, n. p.)
Unlike traditional Western paintings that focus the gaze using single-point perspective, Les implications quotidiennes presents a barrage of imagery that continually slips between figuration and abstraction. The present work features four of Dubuffet’s signature Art Brut figures, cut from separate paintings and collaged onto this canvas. Although flattened along the same picture plane, they seem to exist in distinctly separate spaces, as though untethered to the wild composition behind them, transposed from different pictorial worlds and thrust into a maelstrom of hue and line. The clashing shades and patterns assembled here create abrupt cessations of motion and truncated areas of color, which lend the picture a syncopated, rhythmic quality that visually reproduces Dubuffet’s conception of recollection: “Memories swarm and surge forward all at once, overpopulating the composition. Memories compete with each other, imposing and superimposing themselves. Some figures are in focus while others are blurry. Images appear, disappear, reappear. Overall, Dubuffet’s collages suggest that individual memories refuse to fit into neat compartments, and are always bound to others. Memory, in other words, is shown as it actually happens in our daily experience.” (Kent Minturn, “Memory in the Present Tense,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Pace Gallery, Théâtres de Mémoire: Jean Dubuffet, 2018, p. 34)
This impression is heightened by the chaotic tumult of line and color; organic, cellular swirls in complementary shades of lavender and periwinkle intertwine with vivid swathes of brick red and sunny highlights of butter yellow. Dubuffet’s use of these brilliant hues marked a significant shift from the muted earthen tones that had defined his earlier work. Les implications quotidiennes is a remarkable and revelatory example of the bold, richly saturated colors that would come to define this acclaimed moment in his career. Reveling in a patchwork of varied patterns and tones, Dubuffet avails himself of the full spectrum of color, from the swirls of fiery reds and oranges in the upper center, to the surprising glimpse of an aqueous teal block on the far right, to the amorphous daubs of soft heathered mauve on the left, teasing out subtle relationships through abrupt transitions and contrasts. Taken together, this kaleidoscopic assemblage provides a visual representation of the enigmatic and often random ways in which our memories can function, with seemingly-unrelated stimuli triggering a cascade of disparate images and sensations that nonetheless compose a single, unified impression.
Les implications quotidiennes succinctly manifests Dubuffet’s thesis on the unreliability and volatility of memory. A masterfully executed canvas, capturing a Modernist master at the height of his powers, the present work confirms Dubuffet’s status as one of the greatest painters of his generation. For him, each canvas presented an opportunity to expand his immersive painterly universe and develop his formal vocabulary. In the present picture, Dubuffet does both, adding to his extensive canon of figurative motifs while incorporating organically inspired abstract elements, constructing an emotive, fully-activated canvas. With its deluge of activity, rich bounty of discordant images, and frenetic spatial composition, Les implications quotidiennes offers a whirl of pictorial stimulation that vividly exemplifies the artist’s enduring appeal, synthesizing some of his most successful strategies into a single, powerful painting.
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