Indepth Arts News: |
"Jean Dubuffet Lithographs"
1999-12-19 until 2000-02-27
Cleveland Museum of Art
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