‘The Non-lieux relate not to the outer, concrete world of landscape, but to the inner, abstract realm of the mind and psyche, which transforms the “place” of a landscape into a “non-place”’
‘There is no intrinsic difference between being and fantasy; being is an attribute that the mind assigns to fantasy’
With its flickering, rhapsodic surface of painterly streaks and smears, Jean Dubuffet’s Migration (L41) belongs to the series of Non-lieux (Non-places) that fully consolidated his turn towards non-figurative painting in the early 1980s. Upon a dense black ground, a vibrant network of red, yellow, blue and white lines oscillates wildly before the viewer, shifting in and out of focus across the breadth of the picture plane. Recalling the rough-hewn, scrubbed textures of his celebrated 1960s series Paris Circus – a cycle of paintings often credited as heralding the birth of contemporary street art – the Non-lieux mark the culmination of this trajectory within Dubuffet’s oeuvre. Like a graffiti-laden wall or a chalk pavement drawing, the work quivers with the same visceral immediacy that, just two years previously, had propelled Jean-Michel Basquiat to global stardom. Famously described as the love-child of Dubuffet and Cy Twombly. Basquiat found much in common with his French forefather: both artists sought to transmit their own carnal impulses directly into their art, creating what Diego Cortez identified as ‘a polygraph report, a brain-to-hand “shake”’ (D. Cortez, quoted in R. D. Marshall and J-L. Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Vol. 1, Paris 2000, p. 160). The primal, intuitive sense of line that had underpinned Dubuffet’s practice since its inception came to a head in the final years of his life: released from its duty to figurative forms, it was now free to channel the inner workings of the artist’s nervous system.
Following on from Dubuffet’s Mires, which were conceived in metaphysical rather than representational terms, the Non-lieux deliberately rejected all sense of time and place in favour of raw painterly sensation. Purged of all specific reference, their bristling, electrifying surfaces were construed as psychological transmissions: fields of pure, uninterrupted thought. As Raphaël Bouvier explains, ‘the Non-lieux relate not to the outer, concrete world of landscape, but to the inner, abstract realm of the mind and psyche, which transforms the “place” of a landscape into a “non-place”’ (R. Bouvier, ‘Introduction: Dubuffet’s Metamorphoses of Landscape’, in Jean Dubuffet: Metamorphoses of Landscape, exh. cat., Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2016, p. 20). Like the Texturologies and Materiologies of the 1950s – closely-zoomed studies of raw, natural materials – the Non-lieux sought to distance themselves from all forms of cultural conditioning. For Dubuffet, who had spent his entire career in search of alternative systems of knowledge, the Non-lieux embodied the sense of total mental digression – of ‘migration’, perhaps – that he had previously sought in the art of psychics, mental health patients and outsider communities. ‘The mind has the right to establish being wherever it cares to and for as long as it likes’, he wrote the following year, just weeks before his death. ‘There is no intrinsic difference between being and fantasy; being is an attribute that the mind assigns to fantasy’ ( J. Dubuffet, letter to A. Glimcher, 19 April 1985). With its frenetic visual rhythm and kaleidoscopic textures, the present work speaks directly to this conviction.