Jean Debuffet (1901-1985)
The general public in France soon after World War II sought beauty and redemption in art after the horrors that had just been confronted by many. However Jean Debuffet was a contradiction and provided paintings that he regarded as honest and without pretense. He used mediums which included gravel, straw and texture paintings that were primitive and opposed to the ideas of high traditional art. This emphasis on “materiality” was a way of starting from scratch by ignoring the past, much as the Dadaist movement had done in its time, so the gritty texture and earth colours in his paintings was like the very soil itself a new beginning from the bottom up, as it were.
The “Hourloupe” style he developed from black lined doodles encouraged him to create sculpture using a similar technique as he felt these represented the way we perceive objects in the mind. He was the pioneer of Art Brut, a way of seeing art at it’s most uncontrolled and primitive. He promoted the work of children and mental patients, and influenced his own approach to art. He says: “For me, insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity”.
Art Brut (Raw Art) coincided with the Italian Art Povera which in turn was a reaction against Abstract art in the 1950s. The movement also refers to the “poor” materials used, i.e. burlap sacking, earth, rope, rocks, paper and clothing. Art Informel (mainly in Germany) was similar in the sense of rejecting traditional art in favour of non-geometric Abstraction. From these three art movements it is possible to see that post war European art had gone through a major change in its progression from “High” academic art to ground-breaking beginnings which are fuelled by a primitive base. This echoes the desire of the Dadaist movement that wanted to reject previous art and start from the beginning.
It took a while before Debuffet overcame his doubt in art, twice he reverted to his father’s wine business. But in 1942 he made his choice to pursue an artistic career, painting child-like images, and work influenced by the insane. He also made assemblages of polyester sculptures. There is an unsettling violence to his work that can often be attributed to similar paintings, for example using children’s dolls.
Daniel Buren (1938 - )
Buren uses stripes as a neutral symbol in his sculpture, installing his art in and around Paris during the 60s. He was commissioned to use striped columns at the 2012 Monumenta festival in Paris. The latest installation at the Grand Palais has disks of plastic colours that fill the space and are mirrored from below. I personally don’t find his work rewarding because I don’t get any message, and like others think it is repetitive, but he is regarded as France’s most important living artist. His use of coloured plastic in the BALTIC Centre Contemporary Art exhibition reminds me of Matisse’s church windows that he produced at the end of his life. The reflected light is joyful but for me is closer to interior design techniques than to art. It is interesting that his concern is mainly the “scene of production”, i.e. the process of making, rather than representing anything but the work itself, so a conceptual artist. In terms of stripes, I think Bridgette Riley produces far more interesting work.
I am not sure what all this says about the late 20th Century, I suppose that people aren’t interested in ideas only material things and particularly processes that might relate to Information Technology; people glued to machines and appended to their devices. I am convinced the ‘computer’ will prove to be the womb of future art, but the gestation period seems a bit protracted. However we are starting from the beginning, which is of course the end, and the end is indeed the beginning”