Valérie da Costa and Fabrice Hergott, Jean Dubuffet: Works, Writings and Interviews, Michigan 2007, p. 77
Executed within the last two decades of Jean Dubuffet’s life, Cortège prime-saute forms an enigmatic part of the French artist’s paradigm-shifting l’Hourloupe series. One of the longest and most celebrated cycles of his career, the Hourloupe paintings were first conceived in the summer of 1962 when, whilst speaking on the telephone, Dubuffet absent-mindedly produced a fluid drawing in red and blue ballpoint pen on paper with his free hand while the other held the receiver. This instantiated what was arguably the Art Brut pioneer’s most recognised and acclaimed visual dialect. While some examples of l’Hourloupe, such as Le Train des Vacants, 1965, represent a logical extension of Dubuffet’s preceding Paris Circus series of 1961-1962 - comprising all-over, jubilant eulogies to street festivals and urban dance - others, including the present work, build upon Dubuffet’s longstanding interest in portraiture to create works which seem to magically and mysteriously morph from the figurative into a pure and vibrant abstraction. Just as the human figures in the Paris Circus are gradually enveloped by unstoppable swathes of colour, the biomorphic shapes of Cortège prime-saute at once suggest the entwining outlines of various personages, and revel in the sheer two-dimensionality of the picture plane. Its title translates loosely to ‘Procession, first jumps’: indeed, with its ebullient forms and richly saturated palette, Cortège prime-saute presents a joyful expression of uncontrolled impulses and liberated thought.
In reducing his palette to red, white and blue against a black background for the Hourloupe series, Dubuffet simultaneously pays homage to his motherland, and encapsulates the career-defining quality of his oeuvre: an ineffable beauty achieved through bewilderingly simple materials. With a sense of perpetual evolution and mutual communication, hundreds of visual motifs combine in Cortège prime-saute to evoke at once the wanderings of the unconscious mind and an enlightened perspective free from ‘civilising’ and falsifying gestalts. As the artist himself proclaimed, “Have we lost our joy in celebrating the arbitrary and the fantastic? Are we interested only in self-improvement? Would it not be legitimate, for once at least… to forget truth, to succumb to the vagaries of errors and pitfalls and to take pleasure in cultivating our function as drunken dancers?” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Exh. Cat., Salzburg, Museum der Moderne, (and travelling), Jean Dubuffet, 2003, p. 14). Just as the often deliberately restricted palettes of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning grant their works an unrivalled formal power, the bewitching, teeming coral reef we see within the amorphous forms of Cortège prime-saute depend on Dubuffet’s deft manipulation of his aptly-chosen colour scheme. Not only does Dubuffet achieve staggeringly varied chromatic nuances within his media, but, in employing such a restricted palette he positions himself in the optimal place from which to explore the forms generated by the unconscious: a mainstay in his work and one of the driving forces of his aesthetic.
Channelling the precepts of Art Brut, which sought to elevate the strange, the outcast and the outsider over academic methods and art world norms, Cortège prime-saute is a perfect encapsulation of the artist's unique and enthralling pictorial syntax. Dubuffet’s neologism ‘hourloupe’ recalls both the French verbs ‘hurler’ and ‘hululer’ – meaning ‘to roar’ and ‘to hoot’ respectively – as well as the word ‘loup’, the French noun for ‘wolf’. It was, however, precisely the sound of the word that appealed most emphatically to the artist, who explained: “this ‘Hourloupe’ term is a noun invented on account of its phonetics. In French, it evokes a character who’s at once somewhat enchanting and grotesque; a kind of tragic, growling, lumbering figure” (Jean Dubuffet cited in: Daniel Abadie, ‘La création du monde’ in: Exh. Cat., Paris, Centre Pompidou, Jean Dubuffet, 2001, p. 244). Pulsating with energy and mesmerising to behold, Cortège prime-saute exemplifies the vital, jubilant and spontaneous spirit of Dubuffet’s mature style.
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