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Jean Dubuffet's Art Brut
With the coming of World War II, when the centre of gravity of world art fled Paris in particular, and Europe in general, for the safety, security, and political freedom of the United States, there was left behind a vacuum. War and art are not by their very nature compatible, and the aftermath in Europe was hardly conducive to the kind of exciting art exploration going on in this country. Thus, post-war European art movements were often very much peripheral to what was happening in the U.S. largely because they appeared much less exciting and profound. They just couldn't compete with the New York School and Abstract Expressionism. However in France, one artist did manage to create something of a stir. His name was Jean Dubuffet.

Dubuffet's brand of art was called art brut or "raw art". It was inspired by the art of children and the insane, which he considered uncontaminated by culture. His idols were Gauguin, van Gogh, and Maurice de Vlaminck, with a healthy dose of Surrealism as well. His 1954 painting, Cow with a Subtile Nose, is typical of his work in this vein. He was especially attracted to the cow, given the turmoil in Europe after the war, by its calm, serene demeanour. "The sight of this animal," he said, "gives me an inexhaustible sense of well-being..." At a time when the New York School was creating chaos with Abstract Expressionism, Dubuffet, like the rest of Europe after the war, was seeking emotional stability and calm.

Jean Dubuffet was born in 1901 and thus was heir to all Paris and the French art scene had been before the war as well as the intellectual wasteland in its wake. Working with rather radical art materials such as paint mixed with tar, sand, and mud (sometimes out of necessity), he incorporated them with whatever was available in the way of paint, from industrial enamels to house paints (an art conservators nightmare). These he often used in conjunction with traditional artists' oil colours, applying them to canvas with everything from kitchen utensils to garden tools. The results were textures full of fissures, crackles, and curls suggesting organic surfaces. It wasn't Abstract Expressionism perhaps, but it certainly broke new ground in terms of mixed media!

Contributed by Lane, Jim
18 July 1998

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