Painted in December 1943, Grand Baiser (Big Kiss) dates from the most critical juncture in Dubuffet's career. Having abandoned his successful wine merchant business and taken to art full-time, Dubuffet truly made his artistic breakthrough in 1943, when at last he abandoned not only the prevalent Modigliani, Valadon and Picasso influences of his earlier works, but also abandoned all other preconceived artistic styles. These seemed stagnant and detached in the modern, wartime world, and so Dubuffet turned to the unrestrained Art brut of children's art and that of the mentally ill, which he saw as a purer means of expression.
In Grand Baiser, Dubuffet has eschewed the traditional representations of the kiss, so central to the canon of French art as represented by Rodin and Brancusi. Instead, Dubuffet treats the theme with a freshness and essentially autobiographical relish. He enjoys the kiss, and translates it into a visual language that does not merely represent the couple in a pictorial sense, but rather captures the full essence and subjective impact of the kiss. The iconoclasm of this vivid and vital image, so distant from the frozen archeological moment captured in Rodin's Le baiser, is all the more pertinent and poignant as a product of Occupied Paris.
Coming during the Occupation, Dubuffet's espousal of the art of the marginalised, for instance schizophrenic art, is all the more striking. The Nazis had very strict precepts on what constituted and did not constitute art, closing down many galleries and promoting conservative artists instead. Dubuffet did not merely champion an art of rebellion, but an art of the insane, reacting not only against the rigid censorship of the Fascist powers, but also against the conservatism prevalent in much of French art. Dubuffet's Grand Baiser, liberated so completely from the constraints of representation instead distills perception to an extreme that is iconoclastic next to the work of any of his contemporaries. The almost crude impasto of Grand Baiser's surface and the ardent background colours, contrasting with the unusual colour choices for the couple's faces and bodies, are completely detached from any aesthetic imperatives hitherto known to the art world. By immersing himself in the very real materiality of the actual paint, Dubuffet brought attention to the act of artistic creation itself.
Fig. 1 Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1907-1908, Muzeul de Arta. Craiova