In 1961, Dubuffet returned to the hustle-bustle of Paris after spending years in the countryside. He was immediately intoxicated by the raw and vibrant life of the city around him, a striking contrast to the post-war city that he had left. His renewed interest in depicting humanity exploded onto the canvas in a firework-like display of intense color. Painted in late 1961, Il parle is filled with color and vigor, capturing the creative frenzy that marked Dubuffet's art during this period.
During his time in the countryside, Dubuffet's art had pursued several paths, tending in many cases towards abstraction. Likewise, the countryside had inspired him to explore organic themes, attempting to capture some quality of the earth in his painting. Much of his work, even into 1960, was painted in the browns and yellows of the earth. On returning to Paris, the lights, sights and colours of the city immediately found their way into Dubuffet's paintings, be it in the crowds of his famous Paris Circus pictures, or in works showing single figures as here. Dubuffet was still distilling a feeling of the world around him, but this different world, this metropolitan world, needed a new visual language.
Dubuffet's art aims to create a more direct, more intense evocation of the sights in the world around us, leading us to a more authentic understanding. For why would we merely look at a figurative replica? What would such 'realism' teach us? Instead, inspired in part by the art of children, of the insane, and of other civilisations, Dubuffet explored his themes in styles that are at once idiosyncratic and immediately accessible. His theme remains the splendor of the world around us, the glories of the everyday to which we are too accustomed to notice. As he said only shortly before Il parle was painted:
'My fare is the commonplace. The more banal it is, the more I like it. Fortunately, I don't feel that there's anything exceptional about me. What I want to find in my paintings is the gaze of the average man in the street. Thus, without adding to the simple means available to an ordinary person's hand (I don't want anything but the rudimentary techniques of the layman, they seem quite good enough for me), I've tried to produce huge, high celebrations. Festivities are a lot more worthwhile when we stick to everyday life rather than going to areas foreign to it. That is the only way the intrinsic virtue of festivities - to commute our workaday life into a wondrous celebration - can truly function. I am referring to celebrations of the mind. Please understand: I mean celebrations achieved by moods and deliriums.
'Art addresses the mind, certainly not the eyes. Too many people think that art addresses the eyes. What a poor use of it that would be! ' (Dubuffet, 1960, quoted in Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, ed. M. Glimcher, New York, 1987, p. 181).
The kaleidoscopic background, so suited to the theme of celebration, has a psychedelic intensity, burning with colors that attract our magpie eyes and force it to dart around the canvas, adding a sense of movement to the painting, and a sense of life to the figure. This paint, smeared and scratched and scrawled and daubed, reflects the life of the artist himself. His movements in creating this painting, his energy in applying the paint, are witnessed merely by looking at the picture. Dubuffet is with us as we view Il parle, transmitting his own enthusiasm: 'An artwork is all the more enthralling the more of an adventure it has been, particularly if it bears the mark of this adventure, and if one can discern all the struggles that occurred between the artist and the intractabilities of the materials. And if he himself did not know where it would all lead' (Dubuffet, op.cit., ed. Glimcher, 1987, p. 69). The materiality of the paint surface, with its peaks and troughs and impasto, tells its own tale, but also creates the feeling that the picture itself is somehow organic, that the matter with which it has been painted has a life of its own. In this way, the picture appears to be an emanation of life itself, as though Dubuffet has captured not an image, but an actual chunk of our existence.
Dubuffet repeatedly insisted that art was for the mind, and not the eyes. Despite this, his works have an intensity and immediacy that renders them, albeit in their unorthodox and even shocking way, aesthetic. But the idea of painting for the mind was one that continuously occupied Dubuffet. His painting aims not at the intellect, but hopes to create some firework in the mind, some intense and pleasurable recognition. At the same time, the early 1960s, and 1961 in particular, were a time during which Dubuffet was also experimenting with sound, most notably in collaboration with his friend the CoBrA painted Asger Jorn. The pair made many recordings together, trying to create and harness the sounds of life and the world. In Il parle, the title and the open mouth and gesture of the figure shown reveal Dubuffet continuing to explore the theme of sound within his paintings. Here, the gesture and the mouth of the man shown are filled with expression, perfectly capturing the subject's posture, filled with Gallic attitude. Dubuffet has created an image that makes us feel and hear and think, not merely see, perfectly demonstrating the force and truth of his statement that 'painting can illumine the world with magnificent discoveries. It can imbue man with new myths and new mystiques, to reveal the infinitely numerous undivined aspects of things and values of which we were formerly unaware' (Dubuffet, in op.cit., ed. Glimcher, 1987, p. 132).
Dubuffet, Affluence, 1961 c 2004 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Dubuffet, Acteur à la Collerette, 1961 Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, c 2004 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Dubuffet, Jacasse, 1961 Private collection c 2004 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris
Dubuffet photograph by Kurt Wyss c 2004 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris