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"Jean Dubuffet Lithographs"
1999-12-19 until 2000-02-27
Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland, OH, USA United States of America

Influenced by the devastation of World War II, French artist Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) rejected traditional academic, classical ideals, writing in 1952, The idea that there are beautiful objects and ugly objects, people endowed with beauty and others who cannot claim it, has surely no other foundation than convention . . . and I declare that convention unhealthy. Urban graffiti, prehistoric cave paintings, childrens drawings, the art of the untrained and of tribal peoples, and of the mentally ill--all inspired Dubuffet to reinvigorate painting and create a spontaneous, direct art. He was interested in the mundane and in nature, stressed unbridled invention, imagination, and fantasy, and formulated a bold, gritty style he called Brutal Art (lart brut). Whether the imagery was figural or abstract, Dubuffet often used unorthodox, coarse materials like gravel, asphalt, and the bark and leaves of trees. His proclamation that my art is an attempt to bring all disparaged values into the limelight affected all his work.

Dubuffet had made lithographs since 1944, but from 1958 to 1962 he immersed himself in the medium, producing a monumental series of 324 prints, The Phenomena (Les Phénomènes). He planned to systematically study the fascinating effects achieved with a fixed number of lithographic plates successively printed in different colors, by varying the choice and number of plates, the colors, and the orientation and order in which they were printed. To facilitate the interchangeability and superimposition of the plates, the imagery had to be an indeterminate all-over pattern or texture, without sign of human intervention. As the artist explained, he became a hunter of images taken by surprise, and utilized interesting surfaces such as earth, walls, stones, an old suitcase, even a friends bare back. First printing the plates in black, Dubuffet then improvised, printing them in various combinations of colors in the hope that serendipitous juxtapositions would emerge.

Dubuffet not only worked directly on zinc lithographic plates, but also utilized lithographic transfer paper, a specially coated paper on which a design drawn with greasy lithographic crayon or ink can be transferred onto a lithographic plate. In 1961-62 he printed some of The Phenomena plates onto transfer paper which he cut up into different shapes. These pieces were then arranged to form images of distorted, whimsical faces and figures, thus creating primordial personages out of the very elements of nature. The design of each assemblage was then transferred onto a lithographic plate so that multiple impressions could be printed.

Though Dubuffets paintings and lithographs are related in subject and style, he appreciated the special qualities of printmaking, which he fully exploited. Lithography allowed the same plates to be printed repeatedly in different combinations, and sections of impressions to be used in numerous assemblages. Dubuffets independent spirit, inquiring mind, originality, and intensive experimentation pushed the technique in new, exciting directions.

Jane Glaubinger, Curator of Prints

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