Jean Dubuffet: impish master of perpetual reinvention

Jean Dubuffet: impish master of perpetual reinvention

The Guardian

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Made with anything to hand – rubble, asphalt, butterfly wings – the postwar French artist’s freewheeling art is to be celebrated in a major UK show opening later this month

A writer, visiting the French artist Jean Dubuffet in 1956, was taken by surprise. “Dubuffet is here, in flowery hat and socks with green polka dots. He no longer paints with butter, cement or bitumen, but with shoemaker’s glue.” Period photographs show him as a lithe Ariel experimenting with coal dust, quick-drying enamel, fragments of glass, even sand and butterfly wings – a magnificent changeling darting about the studio.

Along with Giacometti, Beuys and Bacon, Dubuffet (1901-85) is one of the great artists of postwar Europe: zany, free, perpetually reinventing himself and our idea of modern art. So it seems almost impossible that the forthcoming Barbican retrospective should be the first here in half a century. But Dubuffet wasn’t entirely loved even in France to begin with.

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