Executed in October 1952, Herbages au corbeau (Paturages au corbeau) belongs to an important group of works entitled Sols et terrains: Tables paysagées (Landscape Tables), Paysages du mental (Landscapes of the Mind), and Pierres philosophique (Philosopher's Stones). With this series, Dubuffet introduced and experimented with new materials, making mortar-like pastes from gum varnish, sand, plaster, zinc oxide, carbonized lime, coal powder, and polymerized oil. These viscous mixtures were then scrubbed, scraped and scratched to create a vibrant living surface that lays bare the artist's process.
Herbages au corbeau follows Dubuffet's previous preoccupation with the human body to explore the ambiguous relationship between the earth and its occupants. Apart from the crow seen perched on the high horizon line, the pastoral animals seen wandering through this primeval terrain are almost indistinguishable from their surroundings. This deliberate dissolution of form reflects the deep influence of Dubuffet's journeys to the Saharan deserts, where buildings, trees and figures blend seamlessly into the land and are only sharply defined when silhouetted against the sky. In approaching his work in this way, Dubuffet sought to articulate a sense of the continuity binding all living matter that he felt had long been undermined by the oppressive influence of European culture and history.
In this way, Herbages au corbeau represents the culmination of Dubuffet's aim to create art that somehow embodies nature, rather than just represents it. Through the unrestrained and adventurous interaction with his materials, he has not only replicated the texture of soil and skin, but has also produced a phantasmagorical world of strange yet familiar images. "These are landscapes of the brain," Dubuffet explained, "They aim to show the immaterial world which dwells in the mind of man: disorder of images, of beginnings of images, of fading images, where they cross and mingle, in a turmoil, tatters borrowed from memories of the outside world, and facts purely cerebral and internal--visceral perhaps" (in Dubuffet, exh. cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1962, p. 71).