‘The spiritual exercise of integration and intimate unification of the physical with the mental world is aided by several factors, among which must be mentioned the astonishing lightness of the material used, by which the mind is moved to abolish the notion of weight from the objects of the physical world’
‘It is not in fact painted sculpture itself, but rather a monumentally erected painting’
Standing over two metres in height, Jean Dubuffet’s Clochepoche towers above the viewer: a strange, semi-human being from another world. With its interlocking anatomy of red, white and blue cells, arranged like a three-dimensional jigsaw, the work belongs to the celebrated series of sculptures that evolved from Dubuffet’s Hourloupe paintings, and which would culminate in 1973 with the legendary live performance Coucou Bazar. Executed in 1988, Clochepoche is a posthumous enlargement of the 1973 maquette of the same title, which was originally enlarged in 1975 and installed with two other sculptures at the entrance to the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan. Collectively known as L’Ambassade, these three figures evolved from of a larger group of maquettes created in response to a prestigious commission from the architect I. M. Pei. Pei had designed the new East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D. C., and in 1970 asked Dubuffet to create a group of monumental figures to be displayed in the foyer. Following his visit to the city in May 1973, Dubuffet made four maquettes known as Washington Parade, followed by a further thirteen that allowed him to experiment with different combinations of figures. From this group, Dubuffet later selected Clochepoche and its two companions to be enlarged for installation at Japan’s first open-air museum, where they have welcomed visitors for the past forty years. Another work from the edition was included in the artist’s solo exhibition at the Skulpturenpark Waldfrieden, Wuppertal, in 2009.
For Dubuffet, Hourloupe offered a parallel reality, deriving its name from an onomatopoeic collision of ‘hurler’ (‘to shout’), ‘hululer’ (‘to howl’), ‘loup’ (‘wolf ’) and the title of Maupassant’s 1887 horror story Le Horla. The series began in the early 1960s, inspired by a series of distracted biro doodles created whilst talking on the telephone. As an artist who had dedicated his practice to seeking out raw, uncultivated modes of expression – a phenomenon he termed art brut – Dubuffet saw his semi-automatic graphic meanderings as a gateway to the unfettered workings of the subconscious mind. Over time, his surging, cellular masses of red, white and blue crosshatchings gradually began to coalesce into familiar forms: household utensils, domestic objects, pieces of furniture and people. As the series developed, Hourloupe became all-encompassing: a self-contained graphic world that, eventually, would lift off the page altogether into three dimensions. For Dubuffet, these works were not conceived as sculptures in the traditional sense, but rather ‘unleashed graphisms’, or ‘drawings which extend and expand in space’ ( J. Dubuffet, quoted in M. Harrison and L. D. Rosenfeld, Artwalks in New York, New York 2004, p. 6). Seeking to endow these new works with a sense of otherworldly weightlessness, Dubuffet was entranced by the immaterial lightness of Polystyrene, as well as its ethereal white sheen. As the artist explained, ‘The spiritual exercise of integration and intimate unification of the physical with the mental world is aided by several factors, among which must be mentioned the astonishing lightness of the material used, by which the mind is moved to abolish the notion of weight from the objects of the physical world’ ( J. Dubuffet, ‘Note on the Painted Polystyrene Hourloupe Pieces’, in Jean Dubuffet: Writings on Sculpture, Dusseldorf 2011, p. 54). Despite their solid, tangible reality, for Dubuffet these works were ultimately still ephemeral, ghostly extensions of his own mental universe: primal figments of his imagination.
Clochepoche is situated at the apotheosis of Dubuffet’s Hourloupe cycle. By 1973, entire communities of free-standing characters populated his oeuvre, silent witnesses to ‘the illusory character of the world which we think of as real, and to which we give the name of the real world’ ( J. Dubuffet, quoted in M. Rowell, Jean Dubuffet, New York 1973, p. 35). Later that year, they came to life through the bodies of actors and dancers in Coucou Bazar, premiered at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York as part of the artist’s retrospective. The red, white and blue segments that quivered like amoebae in his early Hourloupe works were now activated in real time, inhabited by living people who wore them like costumes. If Dubuffet had originally conceived Hourloupe as a language – a graphic system through which to communicate the diffuse nature of reality – by 1973 it had become a kind of immersive poetry, capable of envisioning an entirely new reality. As an artist who had spent his entire career seeking basic existential truths – traversing desert, city, countryside and outsider communities – Dubuffet’s late Hourloupe creations were ultimately symbols of his own private utopian dream. Situated at the entrance to the Hakone Open Air Museum, Clochepoche and its companions stood as proud ambassadors of a world in which disparate structures were united by a single, snaking, all-inclusive line: a line whose name, though nonsensical, was nonetheless universal.