Recognized as Dubuffet’s largest and most sustained series, the effervescent fantasy and explosive visual dynamism of the L’Hourloupe paintings represent the creative pinnacle of Dubuffet’s prolific and multifaceted practice. As evoked in the saturated scarlet and blue of the present work, the creative origin of the L’Hourloupe lies in a series of sinuous, simplistic doodles in ballpoint pen, mindlessly produced while the artist spoke on the telephone. In its sensuously undulating outline and polychromatic crosshatching, the silhouette of Papa Tromblon (Portrait) 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. The fanciful name of the series is, likewise, a product of Dubuffet’s extraordinary imagination, created through the fusion of multiple French words into 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 quoted in Exh. Cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, New York, 1973, p. 35) Similarly, the title of the present work, Papa Tromblon (Portrait), simultaneously invokes meanings while avoiding clear reference; while a “tromblon” is a technical term for a type of antiquated firearm (also kown as a ‘blunderbuss’), the term also invokes the French word “grognon,” or grumpy, seamlessly invoking the doleful gaze of Dubuffet’s subject.
By radically reducing his palette to saturated zones of red and blue, contoured by sinuous black lines against a luminous white ground, Dubuffet further removes his composition from the realm of everyday reality, effectively enveloping the viewer in a mesmerizing web of densely interlocking figures, patterns, and forms. Describing the desired effect of the subject work and other paintings of L’Hourloupe, Dubuffet reflects: "This was a plunge into fantasy, into a phantom parallel universe. My renewed interest in outsider art was no doubt not unconnected with this sudden new development." (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat., Salzburg, Museum der Moderne (and travelling), Jean Dubuffet: Trace of an Adventure, 2003, p. 174) Indeed, although the forms and lines of Dubuffet’s painting are rendered with exacting, almost mechanical precision, the overall effect is one of exhilarating organic chaos. Like biomorphic entities viewed through a microscopic lens, the distinctly patterned forms within the composition shift and combine to generate a figural topography that, like an impossibly intricate configuration of puzzle pieces, resolves to reveal a striking image. Just as quickly, however, the figure of Papa Tromblon (Portrait) before us dissolves, swirling and merging once more into frenetic abstraction.
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