'When one has looked at a painting of this kind, one looks at everything around one with a new refreshed eye, and one learns to see the unaccustomed and amusing side of things. When I say amusing, I do not mean solely the funny side, but also the grand, the moving and even the tragic aspects [of ordinary things]'
(Jean Dubuffet, Prospectus, vol. 1, p. 47, quoted in Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, New York 1973, p. 23).
Executed in 1964, Contrepoint aux Outils is an outstanding early and large-scale example of Jean Dubuffet's most celebrated series of paintings, rendered in a rare multi-coloured palette. Created between the summer of 1962 and the autumn of 1974, L'Hourloupe, as the series became known, marked a decisive turn away from the conventions of contemporary painting, establishing a novel vernacular in celebration of the banal objects of everyday life. In Contrepoint aux Outils, this is the assembly of tools that Dubuffet artfully weaves into the composition, creating an abstruse and hermetically sealed puzzle of primary colours, black and Breton stripes. For Dubuffet, the objective was not figuration, nor pure abstraction, but a novel mediation of the two, as articulated by the unschooled assembly of artists united under Art Brut. Dubuffet had a strong conviction in the possibilities presented by this kind of art; as he once declared, '[in l'Hourloupe] this consistently uniform script indifferently applied to all will thereby dissolve the categories which our mind habitually employs to decipher (better to say cipher) the facts and spectacles of the world. Herewith the circulation of the mind from one object to another, from one category to another will be liberated and its mobility greatly increased.' (Jean Dubuffet: Letter to Arnold Glimcher, 15 September 1969, reproduced in Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1973, p. 26).
The Hourloupe paintings originally began as a casual series of semi-automatic doodles drawn in red ball point pen during the course of a string of phone calls made by the artist. From the resulting scraps of paper, Dubuffet developed his own personal pictorial script, replete with flat, graphical cells and parallel hatchings in a narrow palette of colours; Contrepoint aux Outils is a striking example of this method. The resulting image is a recondite composition that defies easy reading and rather commands the viewer's mental investigations of forms and shapes. The work combines barely identifiable forms with the fictive outlines of imaginary objects, abounding with what Dubuffet has called simulacra. Simulacra as a term, refers to the use of illusory objects for which no reality has ever existed. Through this method, Dubuffet was initiating a novel subversion and redirection of the still-life tradition. In Contrepoint aux Outils, the presented objects are mere 'ghosts' or 'apparitions' that although endowed with concrete presence in the painting are in fact illusory or 'deliberate delusions to which the artist has given shape, substance, form and presence' (M. Rowell 'Jean Dubuffet: An Art on the Margins of Culture' in T. Messer (ed.), Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, New York 1973, p. 27). They are rendered flat and two-dimensional with not even a glimpse of spatial differentiation, creating a visually arresting but confounding picture.
In this respect, Dubuffet was drawing striking parallels with the artists of Art Brut. For whom imagery refers to 'another level of human discourse: that of the even monotonous flux of the irrational or pre-logical mind' (Ibid., p. 27). To Dubuffet, the importance of art was to express man's natural state rather than his cultured afterthoughts and as such to reject post-Renaissance figurative conventions of three-dimensional perspective space. As the artist concluded 'when one has looked at a painting of this kind, one looks at everything around one with a new refreshed eye, and one learns to see the unaccustomed and amusing side of things. When I say amusing, I do not mean solely the funny side, but also the grand, the moving and even the tragic aspects [of ordinary things]' (Jean Dubuffet, Prospectus, vol. 1, p. 47, quoted in Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, New York 1973, p. 23). KA