‘Over and done with the mystical jubilations of the physical world: I have become nauseated by it and no longer wish to work except against it. It is the unreal now that enchants me’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in A. Franzke, Dubuffet, New York 1981, p. 147).
Constructed from a mass of puzzle-like cells, Jean Dubuffet’s Comptoir Amoncellement, (Laden Counter), is part of his seminal Hourloupe cycle that characterises his later work. What began as automatic doodles made with a ballpoint pen in 1962, culminated in the creation of an alternative world that eschews preconceived notions about reality and encompasses all media of the visual arts from drawing and painting to sculpture, architecture and even music. Akin to the other works from the cycle, Comptoir Amoncellement celebrates the banal objects of the quotidian. Heaped with a compendium of unidentifiable everyday objects, this work is one of Dubuffet’s ‘landscape tables’ of 1968 that express objects not as they appear in the world but as figments of the mind.
Dubuffet espoused that a world built without reference to colour variations, proportions, or spatial considerations might illustrate as much reality as the natural world. It was his intention to call into question our cultural understanding of the meaning of reality. The Hourloupe cycle demonstrates that each of us has the power to, in the artist’s terms, ‘create our own vision of reality which permanently changes’ while its fundamental element stemmed directly from his imagination (J. Dubuffet, quoted in M. Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987, p. 15). He described it 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. This constantly uniform line, applied to all things, reduces them to a common denominator and restores to us a continuous undifferentiated universe’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in M. Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, New York 1987, p. 15). Although the Hourloupe began initially with drawings and paintings, Dubuffet, wishing to give them more ‘life’ and greater ‘corporeality’, transformed the flattened images into three-dimension, creating what he referred to not as painted sculptures, but rather ‘drawings which extend and expand in space’ (http://www.dubuffetfondation.com/hourloupe_ang.htm [accessed 22 May 2014]) (J. Dubuffet, Asphyxiating Culture and Other Writings, New York 1988, p. 116).
In his questioning of preconceived notions about our understanding of reality, Dubuffet created a new mental universe, which as the artist succinctly explained, raises ‘an awareness of the illusory character of the world which we think of as real, and to which we give the name of the real world. These graphisms, with their constantly shifting references, have the virtue of challenging the legitimacy of what we habitually accept as reality. This reality is, in truth, only one option collectively adopted, to interpret the world around us – one option among an infinity of equally legitimate possibilities…’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in M. Rowell, Jean Dubuffet, New York 1973, pp. 35-36).