Meeting us with a jolly wave, Homme au chapeau is a lively invitation into the strange visual world of Jean Dubuffet. The subject, with his mad, jester-like hat, is filled with joy and enthusiasm, and these emotions appear to have been Dubuffet's own when he painted the work. Dating from the end of 1951, when Dubuffet was making his important journey to the United States, Homme au chapeau doubles as a campaign poster advertising Art Brut as a possibility for American artists. Indeed, it was in Chicago in late 1951 that the painter made a speech, entitled 'Anticultural Positions', that served as a rallying cry to many artists of the era.
In the speech, Dubuffet discussed the increasing importance that was being granted to the 'so-called primitive civilisations', both of the past and present. Dubuffet himself had spent a great amount of time in the Sahara, studying such civilisations and their way of life, and came back realising that far from being primitive, those peoples lived in a harmony with their world that made their existence, and hence their art, more immediate whereas Western art, with its notions of beauty and aesthetics, had divorced itself from the world and from our natures:
'I, personally, have a very high regard for the values of primitive peoples: instinct, passion, caprice, violence, madness. Nor do I feel that these values are in any way lacking in our western world. Quite the contrary! But the values celebrated by our culture do not strike me as corresponding to the true dynamics of our minds. Our culture is an ill-fitting coat-- or at least one that no longer fits us. It's like a dead tongue that has nothing in common with the language now spoken in the street. It drifts further and further away from our daily life' (Dubuffet, Anticultural Positions, 1951, quoted in Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, M. Glimcher (ed.), New York 1987, p. 127).
By contrast, Homme au chapeau has the energy of the street. The scrawled and scratched texture of the surface is reminiscent of graffiti, while the sheer exuberant energy of this jumpily-shaped man with his close-together eyes has a simple and direct appeal. This is not the figurative representation of reality, but instead something deeper, something that cuts to our very hears and minds, fulfilling Dubuffet's assertion that he aimed 'at an art that is directly plugged in to our current life, an art that starts out from this current life, that immediately emanates from our real life and our real moods' (Dubuffet, quoted in ibid., Glimcher, loc.cit., 1987, p. 127).