‘Those motley tribes of city-dwellers… swarm onto the canvas in a way that was soon to become the great mental flux of Hourloupe… From then on, and more than ever before, painting was to become, for Dubuffet, a game the brain plays, the mind’s greatest game’ —D. ABADIE
‘Through sheer multiplication, proliferation and germination, Dubuffet [gives] birth to a new world, the likes of which had never been produced by art’ —D. ABADIE
‘There is no intrinsic difference between being and fantasy; being is an attribute that the mind assigns to fantasy’ —J. DUBUFFET
‘Hourloupe finally codified for [Dubuffet] the rules of the game of painting’ —D. ABADIE
‘Brilliant, all-encompassing virtuosity. As devilish as Picasso’ —M. RAGON
‘In my thinking, the works that belong to the L’Hourloupe cycle are linked one to the other, each of them an element destined to become part of the whole. The cycle itself is conceived as the figuration of a world other than our own or, if you prefer, parallel to ours, and it is this world which bears the name L’Hourloupe’ —J. DUBUFFET
‘Dubuffet let his red ball-point pen wander aimlessly over some small pieces of paper, and out of these doodles emerged a number of semiautomatic drawings, which he struck through with red and blue lines. The painter cut out these as yet undetermined compositions and quickly observed that they changed aspect as soon as they were placed against a black background’—M. LOREAU
‘[It is] the figuration of a world other than our own or, if you prefer, parallel to ours, and it is this world which bears the name L’Hourloupe’ —J. DUBUFFET
‘In the rolling contours of [Paris Circus], we can see the germ of L’Hourloupe’ —F. HERGOTT AND V. DA COSTA
'The word Hourloupe was the title of a small book recently published and in which figured, with a text in jargon, reproductions of drawings using red and blue ballpoint pens. I associate it, by assonance, with “hurler” [to howl], “hululer” [to hoot], “loup” [wolf], “Riquet à la houppe” and to the title of Mauspassant’s book Le Horla, that is inspired by psychological distraction’—J. DUBUFFET
An electrifying, technicolour vision of cellular chaos, Jean Dubuffet’s Être et paraître (To be and to seem) proclaims the birth of a new language. Standing among the largest privately-held works created during the pivotal year of 1963, it represents an explosive denouement of the artist’s ground-breaking Paris Circus series and an exhilarating overture to his greatest cycle of works: Hourloupe. Rare for its extraordinary chromatic range, the work offers a kaleidoscopic celebration of colour: a vibrant palette that Dubuffet would eventually restrict to red, blue, black and white. Infused with all the energy of the thriving post-War metropolis, it captures the bustling rhythms of cosmopolitan society, buoyed by the Zeitgeist of optimism, freedom and euphoria that swept the globe during the 1960s. Faces, figures and boulevards flicker in and out of focus as foreground and background oscillate in wild, untamed motion. At the same time, the composition is marshalled by a new internal logic: one of tight jigsaw-piece units, cross-hatched into abstraction, that quiver like amoebae under a microscope. Born from a series of distracted biro doodles, and titled with a made-up phonetic flourish, Hourloupe offered a parallel universe that would forge a new position for Dubuffet in the history of representation. Strains of Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop saturate the canvas; its raw, scrubbed textures and optical pyrotechnics herald the birth of contemporary street art. Hovering before the spectator like a view of the earth from space, the work speaks directly to the heart of Dubuffet’s aesthetic ambitions: to elevate everyday experience to a state of frenzied hyper-reality. Unseen in public for over four decades, Être et paraître channels the spirit of the Parisian streets into a writhing, protean script: the first utopian utterances of a new world that no longer saw a distinction between ‘to be’ and ‘to seem’.
Against a heady backdrop of social and cultural transformation, the early 1960s was a time of great triumph in Dubuffet’s career. In tandem with his major solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1962, London dealer Robert Fraser opened his Duke Street gallery with an exhibition of his work. As Pop Art exploded on both sides of the Atlantic – Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol in America, David Hockney and his contemporaries in London – Fraser positioned Hourloupe firmly at the centre of this dialogue. Être et paraître was one of the earliest works from the cycle to pass through his hands, included in a group exhibition at his gallery in 1965. ‘Robert was one of the first champions of these now lauded works’, writes Arne Glimcher. ‘… Dubuffet, one of the great intellectuals and philosophers of the 20th century, was drawn to Robert because he was colourful, original, and courageous about diving into the new, rather than following the aristocratic social norms; the manner to which he was born. His originality, his off-the-wall spontaneity, and his nuttiness appealed to the master of the perverse’ (A. Glimcher, ‘Robert Fraser’, in A Strong Sweet Smell of Incense: A Portrait of Robert Fraser, Pace Gallery, London, 2015, p. 17). If Hourloupe was already a multi-lingual construct, Fraser’s commitment allowed Dubuffet to push it onto a new global stage.
The present work sits at the dawn of this trajectory. During the following decade, it would travel the world as part of major exhibitions at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice (1964), the Tate Gallery, London (1966), the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1966), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1966 and 1973), the Grand Palais, Paris (1973) and the Fundacion Juan March, Madrid (1976). Early reviews of the series transformed Dubuffet’s reputation. ‘A complete departure from all received ideas’, wrote one; ‘one of the most dramatic and lyrical interpreters of our time’, ran another. Some labelled him a genius comparable to Picasso; others named him the greatest European painter of the post-War period. Over the following twelve years, Hourloupe would evolve into a vast multi-media universe, transcending the canvas altogether as free-standing sculpture, and eventually brought to life in the celebrated performance piece Coucou Bazar. In Être et paraître, we are invited to glimpse the seeds of this language in its most primordial state. Nourished by the joie de vivre of 1960s Paris and still infused with its colours, it surpasses reality whilst still retaining something of its visceral charge. ‘Through sheer multiplication, proliferation and germination’, wrote Daniel Abadie, ‘Dubuffet [gives] birth to a new world, the likes of which had never been produced by art’ (D. Abadie, ‘The mind’s greatest game’, in Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., Galerie Boulakia, Paris, 2007, p. 8).
‘AN INEXHAUSTIBLE FANTASY’: FROM PARIS CIRCUS TO HOURLOUPE
When Dubuffet had first returned to Paris in 1961, after nearly six years in the countryside, he had been struck by the city’s transformation. The ghosts of the Second World War had been banished, replaced by a buzzing cosmopolitan energy that pounded through the streets. Dubuffet’s initial pursuit of so-called art brut – raw visual languages unmarred by cultural tradition – had previously led him into the depths of nature: from the sands of the Sahara desert, to the pastures of rural France, to the grain of the soil beneath his feet. In Paris Circus, these investigations took on a new urban twist, evoking graffiti and cave paintings in their bid to capture the bacchanalia of modern life. It was not until 1962, when Dubuffet and his wife summered in their newly-built house in Le Touquet, that he began to contemplate a language that departed the material realm altogether. The story has since become legendary: whilst talking on the telephone, Dubuffet let his pen wander aimlessly in a series of semi-automatic doodles. He filled in the shapes with parallel red and blue lines, cut them out and was amazed at the effect achieved when stuck onto a black background. For the first time, he felt he had arrived at a mode of representation that was purely neuronal – a way of seeing unfettered by the physical world. As he travelled back and forth to the city from Le Touquet over the next year, Paris Circus would be absorbed into this paradigm. ‘Those motley tribes of city-dwellers … swarm onto the canvas in a way that was soon to become the great mental flux of Hourloupe’, writes Abadie. ‘… From then on, and more than ever before, painting was to become, for Dubuffet, a game the brain plays, “the mind’s greatest game”’ (D. Abadie, ‘The mind’s greatest game’, in Jean Dubuffet, exh. cat., Galerie Boulakia, Paris, 2007, p. 8).
In keeping with its aesthetic, Hourloupe was not a real word but rather a made-up concoction infused with evocative ties to common parlance. As the artist explained, ‘I associate it, by assonance, with “hurler” [to howl], “hululer” [to hoot], “loup” [wolf], “Riquet à la houppe” [a French folk tale] and to the title of Maupassant’s book Le Horla, that is inspired by psychological distraction’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted at http:// www.dubuffetfondation.com/focus.php?menu=38=en [accessed 9 January 2017]). In French, its closest counterpart is ‘entourlouper’, meaning ‘to make a fool of’. Dubuffet gave the title to a small book composed of his original doodles, accompanied by similarly invented phrases of colloquial French. The puzzle-like tessellation of cells recalled the teeming surfaces of his earlier landscapes and figures, whilst simultaneously rejecting their material associations. It was a language no longer bound to the world of matter, but a new type of handwriting that channelled the workings of the nervous system. Over the following years, Hourloupe would become increasingly formalised: the red, blue, white and black vocabulary of the initial drawings would reassert itself, reducing chromatic dialogue to a bare minimum. Objects began to reappear from the linear swamp – chairs, wheelbarrows, beds, teacups – now recast as alien figments of the imagination. Just as Paris Circus had rediscovered the joy of everyday existence, Hourloupe would cast new light upon the banal props of quotidian life. In Être et paraître¸ however, the metropolitan landscape still lingers in the artist’s psyche. In the multi-coloured labyrinth of its rhapsodic surface, the ‘motley tribes of city dwellers’ continue to make their presence known, operating in counterpoint with the new order imposed by Hourloupe. As faces shift in an out of abstraction, Dubuffet pays homage to the rich tapestry of humanity, ‘howling’, ‘hooting’ and looping its way across the canvas.
‘THE MOST RADICAL STRUCTURAL REINTERPRETATION SINCE CUBISM’: DUBUFFET’S ART-HISTORICAL DIALOGUES
Of all Dubuffet’s visual innovations, it was Hourloupe – particularly in its early interface with Paris Circus – that transformed his position in the art-historical canon. In 1986, shortly after the artist’s death, Thomas M. Messer declared that ‘L’Hourloupe [is] arguably the most radical structural reinterpretation since Cubism’ (T. M. Messer, ‘Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985): A Summary’, in Jean Dubuffet and Art Brut, exh. cat., Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 1986, p. 24). Though its origins evoked the automatic drawing techniques espoused by the Surrealists – who similarly sought to access the subconscious fluctuations of the mind – its painterly incarnations spoke visually to the legacy of Picasso, Léger and Braque. Hourloupe abandoned all ties to traditional perspective, dissolving the relationship between figure and ground through a series of dizzying optical non-sequiturs. In the catalogue for the artist’s 1966 exhibition at Tate, London, the present work is singled out as exemplary in this regard: ‘There is a continual play of image against image (e.g. in Être et paraître) which gives a rhythmic pulse to many of the paintings. And as with Cubism, one has to learn the language before one can “read” them’ (Jean Dubuffet: Paintings, exh. cat., Tate, London, 1966, p. 59). Like Cubism, all illusion of three-dimensional dialogue is created by a series of flattened planes that jostle for attention within our vision. It is not a real space, but rather a mental one: a complex, fractured terrain that is animated by the slippages of human cognition.
Equally, Hourloupe was very much a language of its time. When Fraser brought Dubuffet’s work to London, the city was entering a new era. It was the heyday of British Pop Art, led by a radical generation of art school graduates including Allen Jones, Peter Phillips and David Hockney. ‘Dubuffet can be said to have had a real influence on Pop Art in both America and Europe’, observes Andreas Franzke; ‘…one need only look at some of the early paintings of David Hockney to see his influence’ (A. Franzke, Dubuffet, New York 1981, p. 15). In works such as Grand Procession of Dignitaries in the Semi-Egyptian Style (1961), Hockney’s carnivalesque figures resonate not only with Dubuffet’s earlier personnages, but also with the curious characters that lie embedded in the surface of Être et paraître. Dubuffet’s work chimed with the newfound dynamism of ‘Swinging London’: a revolutionary explosion of art, music and fashion against a backdrop of political activism and sexual liberation. With clients including members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Fraser was at the epicentre of this movement, described by Paul McCartney as ‘one of the most influential people of the London sixties scene’. His well-documented rebellious streak was immortalised in Richard Hamilton’s iconic Swingeing London 67 (1968-69), based on a photograph showing him handcuffed to Mick Jagger at the centre of their infamous drugs scandal. It was a time of turbulent cultural change, buoyed by the same sense of freedom and expression that Dubuffet had witnessed on the streets of Paris.
Alongside Dubuffet, Fraser was also responsible for bringing a number of US artists to London during this period. As Hourloupe continued to grow, the relationship between Dubuffet’s practice and the evolving landscape of post-War American art became increasingly apparent. Just as Lichtenstein, Warhol and Oldenburg responded to the rise of global consumerism – a phenomenon that, in France, was driving the work of the Nouveau Réalistes – Dubuffet’s new language sought to amplify the aura surrounding everyday experiences and objects. Beyond Pop Art, however, Dubuffet’s transatlantic dialogue may equally be understood in relation to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism. In Être et paraître, the faces that emerge from the sea of loose, abstract strokes evoke the primal brutality of Willem de Kooning’s Women; its proliferating, all-over surface patterns invite comparison with Jackson Pollock. At the same time, the meandering linear maze of Hourloupe points to Cy Twombly, who had left America for Rome in a bid to liberate his hand from conventional mark-making techniques. It also points to the future: to 1980s New York, where Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring would hail Dubuffet one of the world’s first truly urban artists. Evocative of chalk pavement drawings and marks daubed upon a subway wall, the caustic textures of Être et paraître seem to prefigure those of spray paint, applied in vigorous rough-hewn layers. As Hourloupe weaves its mesmeric script around a sea of abstract and figurative glyphs, we catch a glimpse of the encrypted graphic poetry that would take the art world by storm almost twenty years later.
‘THE MIND’S GREATEST GAME’: DEPARTING THE MATERIAL WORLD
‘Painting can illumine the world with magnificent discoveries’, wrote Dubuffet in his famous 1951 statement ‘Anticultural Positions’. ‘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’ (J. Dubuffet, ‘Anticultural Positions’, 1951, reproduced in J. Glimcher, Jean Dubuffet: Towards an Alternative Reality, Minneapolis 1987, p. 132). In Dubuffet’s early Hourloupe works, this belief was given new substance. Like micro-organisms under scrutiny or satellite photographs blown up to gigantic proportions, they offered a vision of the world that went beyond the limits of the human imagination. Over the following two decades, Dubuffet’s art would increasingly attempt to map out uncharted mental terrains: from his Théâtres de mémoire, to the abstract swansongs of the Non-lieux and Mires. In Être et paraître, however, these investigations are still underpinned by the infectious rhythms of Paris: the great comedy of errors and mirages that Dubuffet witnessed on its streets. In the dialogue between Paris Circus and Hourloupe, the artist gave form to his most fundamental creed: that image-making should lead us into the realm of phantasmagoria. ‘When the gala day arrives’, he asked, ‘can’t we emulate those Chinese conjurers by reaching into our heads, pulling out the iridescent scarves of incongruities, and decorating our homes with them, in the tintinnabulation of the merry bells at the Carnival of Equivalences and Inconsistencies?’ (J. Dubuffet, ‘Carnival of Mirages’, in L’hourloupe, exh. cat., Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris, 1964). In the surging optical vortex of Être et paraître – where nothing is as it seems – Dubuffet offers a resolute answer to this question.