‘My desire is to make the site evoked by the picture something phantasmagoric, and that can be achieved only by jumbling together more or less veristic elements with interventions of arbitrary character aiming at unreality. I want my street to be crazy, my broad avenues, shops and buildings to join in a crazy dance, and that is why I deform and denature their contours and colours’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in A. Franzke, Dubuffet, New York 1981, p. 148).
‘Both Dubuffet and Basquiat were engaged in a methodical exploration of states of perception, knowing, and being. They used the means that best suited their purpose, arriving at remarkably similar artistic forms’ (L. Rinder, quoted in Dubuffet and Basquiat: Personal Histories, exh. cat., Pace Wildenstein, New York, 2006, http://www.pacegallery.com/newyork/exhibitions/11804/ dubuffet-and-basquiat-personal-histories [accessed 3 June 2014]).
‘Jean Dubuffet has shed his ground-worshipper tunic. The period of austerity is over. His ‘matériologue’ side sleeps; make way for the playful and theatrical Janus, the dancer and shouter’ (M. Loreau, in Catalogue des travaux, Fascicule XIX, Paris-Circus, Paris 1965, p. 7).
An electrifying outburst of wild, hallucinogenic ecstasy, Jean Dubuffet’s L’Heure de la hâte (The hour of anticipation) is an intoxicating phantasmagoria of psychedelic colour and form that captures the high-octane hedonism of the Parisian heyday. With its two personnages caught up in a frenetic rave, a hypnotic explosion of chalk-like scrawl and schismatic impasto creates a mesmerizing optical density. Part of the artist’s landmark series Paris Circus, it was painted in 1961, the seminal year that Dubuffet returned to the bright lights of the city and marvelled at its transformation. Gone was the gloom of post-War Paris, its scars and shadows replaced by a heady metropolis and cosmopolitan joie de vivre. Painted on 28 December, L’Heure de la hâte presents a heightened euphoria on the brink of the New Year: its title, suggestive of frenzy and expectation, evokes a carefree abandonment of the past and an unbridled celebration of future promise. Over the course of the festive period, Dubuffet painted a handful of similar works, including, L’instant propice (Propitious Moment) which, created just five days later, is held in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Embracing the spirit of the hour, Dubuffet ushers in an untamed visual language for a new urban culture, heralding the dawn of contemporary street art and prefiguring the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1980s New York. Within this visionary rhapsody of colour, texture and noise, background and foreground fluctuate to an undulating beat, pulsing with raw vitality and drawing the viewer into a chaotic hyperreality. In the immediacy of Dubuffet’s brushstrokes, we feel the life-force of the festivities and the thrill of the dance. Against a deliberately fat backdrop of caustically-applied black, Dubuffet’s two primal figures are thrown into oscillating relief, powerful symbols of a new generation swept along by the freedom and joy of the 1960s. In Paris Circus, every day was a celebration: daily existence was fresh and exciting, with quotidian phenomena seen through tinted lenses of optimism and desire. ‘Over and done with the mystical jubilations of the physical world’, Dubuffet exclaimed‘… It is the unreal now that enchants me’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in A. Franzke, Dubuffet, New York 1981, p. 147).
Dubuffet had returned to Paris from a six-year self-imposed retreat to the countryside at Vence. There, he had immersed himself in a dark, rural aesthetic of earthbound materiality, studying the textures of the soil and ground in minute detail. His fascination with organic matter, as expressed in his Texturologies, Topographies and Matériologies of the late 1950s, allowed him to escape the sobriety of post-War Paris, bringing him into contact with sites of growth and life. In his absence, however, the city was born anew, transformed from a war-torn capital into a thriving social and cultural epicentre. Upon his return in 1961, Dubuffet lifted his eyes from the earth below his feet and was struck by the vibrant splendour of his new surroundings. The force of this revelation gave birth to Paris Circus, and brought with it the dawn of one of the very first truly urban aesthetics. The artist was swept up in the whirl of the city, captivated by the energy coursing through the Parisian shop windows and streets, bustling with cars, people, laughing, talking and dancing. Paris was a feast and Dubuffet became its entranced portraitist. ‘Jean Dubuffet has shed his ground-worshipper tunic’, wrote Max Loreau. ‘The period of austerity is over. His “matériologue” side sleeps; make way for the playful and theatrical Janus, the dancer and shouter’ (M. Loreau, in Catalogue des travaux, Fascicule XIX, Paris-Circus, Paris 1965, p. 7). The sombre tones of his previous output were replaced by a vibrant palette of reds, blues, yellows and pinks, whilst the primitivistic energy of art brut was channeled afresh into rich tactile surfaces and childlike representations laden with wonder and immediacy. Rough-hewn gestural markings, redolent of chalk pavement drawings, gave birth to surging, visceral terrains, quivering with sensory traces and radiating a palpable life-force. In Paris Circus, the viewer is invited to join the ecstatic dance of Dubuffet’s newly-discovered playground.
In Dubuffet’s raw painterly terrain and resolutely urban subject matter, we witness the birth of contemporary street art. Two decades later, this trajectory would be brought to a roaring climax in the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, with bustling 1960s Parisian streets exchanged for those of post-Punk New York. Operating as the pre-eminent graffiti artist of his time, Dubuffet paves the way for Basquiat’s searing energy and wild graphic impulse. Just as Basquiat’s unique visual language was filtered through the highly-charged flow of contemporary music and images that flooded his consciousness, so too was Dubuffet’s painterly expression firmly rooted in the living, breathing dynamism of his milieu. Both sought to translate the sensory richness that surrounded them onto the canvas through a cacophony of colour, texture and form. Richly prophetic, L’Heure de la hâte might be seen to foreshadow what Diego Cortez has identified in Basquiat as ‘a polygraph report, a brain-to-hand “shake.” The figure is electronic-primitive-comic’ (D. Cortez, quoted in R. D. Marshall and J-L. Prat, Jean-Michel Basquiat, vol. 1, Paris 2000, p. 160). Like contemporary scribes, Dubuffet and Basquiat captured cities in their prime, daubing their impressions upon the canvas with a physical energy that emanates from every brushstroke. Operating in the same vein as a wall or pavement – the traditional locus of street art – the canvas becomes a means of transmitting the visceral impulses of the artist’s own lived experience. As Lawrence Rinder has written, ‘both Dubuffet and Basquiat were engaged in a methodical exploration of states of perception, knowing, and being. They used the means that best suited their purpose, arriving at remarkably similar artistic forms’ (L. Rinder, quoted in Dubuffet and Basquiat: Personal Histories, exh. cat., Pace Wildenstein, New York, 2006, http://www. pacegallery.com/newyork/exhibitions/11804/dubuffet-and-basquiat-personalhistories [accessed 20 December 2014]).
Throughout the 1960s, an intoxicating post-War energy swept the globe, in which everyday phenomena were seen through fresh, excited eyes. In America, Pop Art was born, investigating the unique auras surrounding quotidian objects and fearlessly appropriating the daily images that flooded our consciousness. In France, amidst the throes of New Wave cinema and sexual revolution, Dubuffet created a new liberated language that sought to convey the unbounded joy of daily living – of walking in the city, of riding a bicycle through the countryside, of simply being. As Dubuffet explained, ‘My art does not seek to include festivities as a distraction from everyday life, but to reveal that everyday life is a much more interesting celebration than the pseudo-celebrations created to distract from it’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, 2001). His stylistic fusion weaves a parallel universe in which the day-to-day is transformed into a bright, kaleidoscopic hyper-reality. With his unique collage of disparate painterly effects and twisted physical forms, Dubuffet constructs a unique visual script. His gestural vocabulary disables our spatial awareness to the point of psychedelic rapture: figures advance and recede within our vision, creating a richly kinetic optical effect. L’Heure de la hâte conjures a new artistic handwriting, equipped to translate sensory experience and, in doing so, to suggest new ways of comprehending our daily existence.
The immediacy of everyday experience was something that lay at the heart of Dubuffet’s fascination with art brut - the intuitive, unfettered and instinctive visual languages that Dubuffet has previously sought out in tribal cultures, mental institutions and children’s art. Indeed, the Paris Circus series imports a great deal of this vernacular into its grainy surfaces and purposefully fat application of paint. Dubuffet’s quixotic figures are indicative of this tendency: executed with childlike naivety, the two protagonists of L’Heure de la hâte confront the viewer with a strange familiarity, curiously alien yet evocative of an age of unpolluted innocence. Dubuffet’s Paris is populated with such beings, and their fluid, cellular forms would go on to inform the automatism and free spontaneity of the artist’s celebrated l’Hourloupe style, initiated two years later. ‘My desire is to make the site evoked by the picture something phantasmagoric, and that can be achieved only by jumbling together more or less veristic elements with interventions of arbitrary character aiming at unreality’, Dubuffet explained. ‘I want my street to be crazy, my broad avenues, shops and buildings to join in a crazy dance, and that is why I deform and denature their contours and colours’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in A. Franzke, Dubuffet, New York 1981, p. 148).