Dating from 1963, Impair et Amble (Uneven and Ambling) marks a turning point in Jean Dubuffet’s celebrated career, when a distinctive and progressive style emerged that would become one of his most enduring cycles of paintings. It is a vital and energetic work, where amorphous shapes filled with stripes of vivid primary colors and subtle pastel tones interlock to form a proud and playful jigsaw, set against a ground of dense black. The simple joy and unselfconscious vitality conveyed by the mesh of writhing, abstract form was a style that compelled and satisfied the French artist for many further years, and Impair et Amble became one of the very first paintings in Dubuffet’s definitive painting cycle–L’Hourloupe–that was to occupy him for a full decade. Impair et Amble was included in one of the first exhibitions dedicated to these works, Jean Dubuffet: 1962-1966 at the Guggenheim in New York in 1966. It was the longest period of time that the artist ever dedicated to a single series of work, and L’Hourloupe paintings have since been exhibited world over.
The series had its origins in July 1962, when Dubuffet began a series of gouaches and drawings inspired by doodles that he had drawn in red ballpoint pen while he was making phone calls. Cutting them out - a technique that he often employed in creating many of his earlier paintings - he quickly saw how his casual mark making changed and gained compositional strength when placed against a black background. As the title of the present work implies, the unpredictable pathways of the lines, and how they accidentally created shapes and associations in the immediate moment of their creation, was what intrigued Dubuffet most of all. He revelled in the equality that the aimless process brought to the composition, later describing his L’Hourloupe paintings as “a meandering, uninterrupted and resolutely uniform line, which brings all planes to the surface and takes no account of the concrete quality of the object described, its size and position but, rather, abolishes all the usual categories of one notion and another” (J. Dubuffet, quoted in M. Glimcher, (ed.), Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York, 1987, p. 223)
In February 1963 Dubuffet began a series of oil paintings stimulated by these discoveries. A month later, as he wrote in the catalogue accompanying the 1966 Guggenheim exhibition, “two paintings Uneven and Ambling and The Rich Fruit of Error were done with others in the same new vein in which the style of L’Hourloupe is affirmed and the theme of the Parisian street is completely eliminated” (J. Dubuffet, quoted in ‘Twenty Third Period of My Works’ July 1962 to June 1965, exh. cat., Jean Dubuffet: 1962-1966, Guggenheim Museum New York, 1966, p. 23).
L’Hourloupes marked a distinct turn away from his previous series of works, such as the Matériologies, which were heavily influenced by the ‘outsider art’ tenants of art brut, and rendered in a naturalistic palette of muted, earthen colors, and employed unorthodox materials such as cement, tar and plaster. “In all my works, “ Dubuffet said, “there are two different winds that blow, one carrying me to exaggerate the marks of intervention, and the other, the opposite, which leads me to eliminate all human presence... and to drink from the source of this absence” (J. Dubuffet, quoted on Fondation Jean Dubuffet website, accessed at: http://www.dubuffetfondation.com/home.php?lang=en).
Yet the bright color, lyrical patterns and strict linearity of the L’Hourloupes were still inspired by the art of the ordinary, untrained person, and aspired to explore everyday states of perception. The semi-subconscious aspect that was inherent to their creation was part of his conviction that of art was able to express man’s natural state. He once stated: “[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” (J. Dubuffet, quoted in 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).
L’Hourloupes were created within an atmosphere of exuberance that Dubuffet found when he returned to Paris in 1961, having lived in the countryside since 1955. It was a city in the throes of a social and sexual revolution, full of promise and energy, far removed from the scarred and grieving city of the immediate post-war years that he had left behind six years earlier. His work from the early sixties celebrates and reflects this untamed, vital energy, and aspires to convey the more playful atmosphere that he encountered. The year that he painted Impair et Amble he spoke of the symbiotic relationship between the creation of art and the progressive cultural climate. “Art, by its very essence, is of the new” he said in 1963, “There is only one healthy diet for artistic creation: that of permanent revolution” (J. Dubuffet, quoted in M. Glimcher, (ed.), Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York, 1987, p. 3).