Le violoniste au chien / Violinist with Dog
Reed pen and brush, Chinese ink on vellum board
Inv. No. SG 3356
45.5 × 64.5 cm
In the loose tangle of lines that make up this drawing, it is initially almost impossible to find the violinist referred to in the title or the shape of the dog facing him. But gradually the rather touching pair detach themselves from their surroundings and emerge in a central position in the composition. With flowing strokes, the artist has guided reed pens over the lower part of the surface, sometimes holding more than one at a time to create parallels which introduce a certain discord to the lines. This lively but undefined two-dimensional area forms the light-coloured foreground. It provides space for other potential figures, but only the musician and the animal have been incorporated into the quite different upper part of the drawing. With brush and ink, Dubuffet virtually built the latter out of closely packed-in cell-shapes with dark cores. In contrast to the idyllic quality that dominates the foreground, this solidly constructed background looks like the map of a densely populated city.
Jean Dubuffet did not devote himself to painting definitively until he was forty-one years old, and from the very outset he worked outside conventional norms with regard to form and content alike. He took his inspiration from the works of non-conforming artistic outsiders; he collected such works and even coined a term for them: »Art brut«. Like the originality of his conception of the human figure with its banal and nevertheless humane character, his rough manner of painting met with great interest in the post-war period in America, where his work became known from 1946 onwards through exhibitions held by the New York Pierre Matisse Gallery. Having come from Paris, the leading artistic centre of the day, Dubuffet worked in New York from November 1951 to April 1952. Here he also met Jackson Pollock, who was creating a furore with his »dripping« technique.
The interest shown by each artist in the other’s unconventional artistic language immediately prompted Dubuffet to produce a series of figural drawings within the context of which he added the down-and-outs of New York’s Bowery district to his range of subjects. However, what is surprising about these »Bowery Bums« is not so much the fact that the motif has been drawn from the urban scenery, but rather the artist’s suitably lively, rapid handling of the pen in executing them. Between June and October 1952, after his return from America, Dubuffet worked on the so-called »Terres radieuses / Radiant Lands«, a group of thirty-two drawings which include the Violiniste au chien. The play of lines and the unrestrained, »overflowing« quality of these imagined landscapes virtually amount to a response by the European Dubuffet to the »all-over« principle of the American Pollock.
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