Barbican Art Gallery (London, UK): Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty
Large Black Landscape is the culminating work of a series of landscapes which Dubuffet executed in Paris between July and September 1946. In the preceding years he had become increasingly interested in work made by untrained artists, children and the mentally ill. He believed that such art, which he called Art Brut (Raw Art), was free from the cultural conventions governing fine art, and reflected the true dynamics of the human mind. He declared himself an artist of the people and, in a lecture given in 1951, said that he aimed to produce 'an art that is directly plugged into our current life, that immediately emanates from our real life and our real moods' (quoted in Glimcher, p.57).
Dubuffet particularly admired graffiti and the black surface of Large Black Landscape, which was built up of layers of paint into which lines were scraped and gouged, is reminiscent of an aged and crumbling, graffiti-covered wall. It is hard to decipher the painting's linear markings, many of which appear non-representational. However, the image, which appears to be both a cross-section of the scene and a view across the terrain, includes paths leading up to the high horizon, houses, trees and two children. In the sky is a pallid, sickly coloured sun and a sign resembling a clutch of balloons but used by Dubuffet to represent a 'dancing cloud'.
Towards the end of the Second World War Dubuffet had produced several paintings and prints featuring graffiti or messages scrawled on walls. These included a series of fifteen lithographs made to illustrate a book of poetry by his friend Eugène Guillevic entitled The Walls. Mildred Glimcher, author of a monograph on the artist, has suggested that this volume 'united his excitement with the life of the street, the sense of adventure he and his friends felt when confronted with the hand of ordinary men - the graffiti on walls with their time-worn patina - and (like the Art Brut artists) the combining of writing and images' (Glimcher, p.8).
For the critic Lawrence Alloway, writing in 1958, the striking feature of Large Black Landscape was that Dubuffet had 'humanised' the flat picture plane associated with modernist painting. 'He [Dubuffet] creates a thick hide of paint which he then scratches, finding colour underground - like a miner, making signs - like anybody writing on a wall', Alloway wrote. 'Thus, the flat surface is as "real" as a wall covered with graphic signs and traces of human activities.' (Some Paintings from the E.J. Power Collection, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1958, p.2.)
Large Black Landscape was purchased by the British collector E.J. Power (1899-1993) from Arthur Tooth and Sons Gallery, London in 1958. It remained in his collection until his death when it was allocated to Tate in lieu of tax.
Peter Selz, The Work of Jean Dubuffet, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1962
Mildred Glimcher and Jean Dubuffet, Jean Dubuffet Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987
Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Brancusi to Beuys: Works from the Ted Power Collection, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1996, p.28, reproduced p.29 in colour
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