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Jean Dubuffet

(French, 1901-1985)

Renowned as a giant of Modernism, Jean Dubuffet is best known for coining the term Art Brut, meaning raw art, to describe the art of “people untouched by artistic culture,” in particular children and the mentally ill. These naïve paintings were championed by Dubuffet for their ignorance, and therefore disregard, of high art and academic modes of painting – a disregard which he shared.

He was born into a bourgeoise wine merchant family on July 31, 1901, in Le Havre, France. In 1918, he moved to Paris to study art, however by 1924, he gave up painting and began educating himself and eventually and began working as a wine merchant for the family business instead. A decade later, he began working as a painter once more. He would give up painting and return to the family wine business more than once throughout his illustrious career, finally permanently settling into the life of a painter in the 1940s.

Known for his rebellious attitude toward mainstream culture and tastes, Dubuffet referred to himself as ‘anticultural’ and aimed to achieve the immediacy and strength of expression of Art Brut that he was not able to find in self-conscious, academic art. Though Dubuffet constantly experimented with and developed new techniques, including hautes pâtes (high pastes) and pâtes battues (beaten pastes), the resulting textured and gritty canvases of simplified, expressive forms all conform to the ideology of Art Brut. Dubuffet incited much controversy with his childlike, obsessive and unfinished looking works.

In the early 1960s, he developed a radically new, graphic style, which he called Hourloupe and would deploy it on many important public commissions, but he remains best known for the thick textured and gritty surfaces of his pictures from the 1940s and 50s. Besides painting, Dubuffet was also involved with poetry and theoretical texts, played jazz, experimented widely with art-making materials and techniques, and worked in many mediums, including painting, drawing, printmaking, large-scale outdoor sculpture, and what he called “animated painting”—works bridging painting, sculpture, dance, and theatre, and featuring live performers.

Jean Dubuffet