In the early 1960s, shortly after the Paris Circus series, Jean Dubuffet embarked on what would become his largest and most important body of work, a cycle that would occupy him in various forms and media for 12 years, titled L’Hourloupe. The artist’s habit of letting his ballpoint pen wander over any paper on hand whilst on the telephone gave rise to the cycle, which is characterized by three predominant colors: red, white and blue, with sinuous black lines representing a major exploration of three-dimensional space influenced by the artist's interest in architecture. This series reflects the culmination of Dubuffet’s pictorial ambitions. The name of the series, L’Hourloupe, is a nonsense word Dubuffet devised, inventing it “just for the sound of it. In French it calls to mind some object or personage of fairy tale-like and grotesque state and. . . also something tragically growling and menacing”( J. Dubuffet, “Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, vol. 25: Arbres, murs, architectures,” Lausanne, Weber, 1974, p. 16). The cycle in the beginning consisted of drawings and paintings, but Dubuffet, wishing to give them greater corporeality, transformed the flattened images into three-dimensional works. Dubuffet constructed his three-dimensional pieces from polystyrene, a lightweight white synthetic material that was satisfyingly easy to use. Dubuffet gave L’Hourloupe corporeal form in Papa la Cravate (1973) a work central to his output that fuses the traditional categories of painting, drawing and sculpture, remarking on his desire to create not sculptures per se, but “drawings which extend and expand in space” (J. Dubuffet, “Remarks on the Unveiling of The Group of Four Trees, New York, October 24, 1972,” trans., by Benita Eisler in Late Picasso: Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints, 1953-1972, p. 36).
Papa la Cravate has a playful surface in which its visual patterns contrast with the distorted form to evoke a facetious figure of fragmented surfaces—a dystopia of unbalanced contingency where intersecting planes are constructed on vertical axes, seeking to repel the rationality of composition and seductiveness of color. The unclear boundaries between the real and fantasy, beautiful and grotesque, sanity and mental illness are all explored in Papa la Cravate, ideas for which Dubuffet is best known. As noted in the Guggenheim retrospective catalogue: “The very particular point (of the mind) where an equivocation between the imaginary and the real arises, that point between the domain of evocations and that of objects, posing the greatest threat of slipping from one to the other, that point produces in me uneasiness and discomfort but at the same time it exerts a fascination over me to the point of not knowing if I fear or if I seek it out and solicit it” (M. Rowell, Jean Dubuffet: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1970, p. 29).
Dubuffet sought artistic authenticity not within the confines of formal European tradition, but, rather, he looked to those on the margins of art: the socially isolated and primitive, and to a limited degree, the art of children. Influenced by those perspectives on art, Dubuffet incorporated similar visual language into his own work. Dubuffet referred to this painting style as Art Brut.
Papa la Cravate materialized in three dimensions—a dialogue between painting, collage techniques and sculpture—fused by Dubuffet’s effort to destroy them, as he sought to repel the rationality of composition and the provocation of color, where perspective, illusion and composition are, in effect, explored. The intimidating form of Papa la Cravate, which seems to shake and sway with a menacing grotesquerie, is a reminder of the importance of Dubuffet’s project. Among the play and bewildering activities surrounding the work is the tragedy of a generation of artists who lived through two World Wars and whose sense of the real and possible was irretrievably marked by the political circumstances of the world.