‘The objective of a painting is to animate a surface which is by definition two-dimensional and without depth...Let us seek instead ingenious ways to flatten objects on the surface; and let the surface speak its own language and not an artificial language of three dimensional space which is not proper to it... The objects represented will be transformed into pancakes, as though flattened by a pressing iron’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1973, p. 24).
A striking example of Jean Dubuffet’s universally celebrated oeuvre, Tête à la lèvre blessé presents the viewer with a beautifully rendered portrait that speaks with a raw and profound immediacy. Creating a sensuously textured and layered topography of deep pigment, Dubuffet masterfully translates the human head into its reduced, two-dimensional effigy through just a few tonal variations and shapes. Instilled with a physical and psychological vivacity that reaches beyond the limits of the canvas, the figure meets our gaze with piercing eyes, inviting us to appreciate Dubuffet’s dynamic perspective on shaping the human form. Executed in the artist’s iconic art brut aesthetic, this compelling image gracefully illustrates the artist’s exuberant sense of experimentation. Indeed, challenging the authority of line and form through the raw verisimilitude of matter, this work exquisitely displays the artist’s insatiable interest in material (matière) and figurative two-dimensionality during the 1950s. Executed in 1951, the year he moved from Paris to New York, the present work occupies an important position in Dubuffet’s oeuvre and testifies to the artistic maturity he would develop in this pivotal period. Created contemporaneously to his renowned series Corps de Dame, Tête à la lèvre blessé demonstrates the apotheosis of the artist’s engagement with Art Brut and liberation of matière and anticipates Tableaux d'Assemblages, the seminal series that would represent a major breakthrough in Dubuffet's career only a few years later in 1955 - 56.
Tête à la lèvre blessé gracefully demonstrates Dubuffet’s enduring concern with dismantling the traditional tropes of Western 'high art' in new and radical ways. Since the dawn of Dubuffet’s art making since the end of World War II, the artist consistently sought to bring the art object down from its pedestal. Rejecting the established notions of taste, skill, and beauty that he felt were at the core of Western culture since the Ancient Greeks, Dubuffet turned to the honest and unprompted creative expressions of the ‘primitive’. Famously coining this aesthetic art brut, he embraced its crudeness and transgressive outsider position as an alternative to what he considered an outdated fine arts tradition. Dubuffet’s profound belief that art should be a direct reflection of emotion and instinct, rather than a produce of training or convention, powerfully figures in Tête à la lèvre blessé. As the artist explained in a lecture at the Arts Club Chicago in 1951, the same year the present work was created: 'And now what happens with art? ...I am going to tell you. Art, then, returns to its real function, which is much more significant than creating shapes and colours agreeable for the so-called pleasure of the eyes….Art addresses itself to the mind, and not to the eyes’ (J. Dubufett, ‘Anticultural Positions’ (1951), in K. Stiles (ed)., Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artist’s Writings, Berkeley 1996, pp. 195-196).