Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
The Collection of Joan and Preston Robert Tisch
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

Sécréter son Habitat

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Sécréter son Habitat
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'J.D. 76' (lower right); numbered and titled 'n. 22 Sécréter son habitat' (on the reverse)
acrylic on paper collage mounted on canvas
75 x 67 1/2 in. (190.5 x 171.4 cm.)
Executed in 1976.
Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owners, 1979
M. Loreau, Catalogue des travaux de Jean Dubuffet, fascicule XXXII: Théâtres de mémoire, Paris, 1982, p. 30, no. 22 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Jean Dubuffet’s Sécréter son Habitat is a revelatory example of the French master’s acclaimed late style. Executed in 1976, Sécréter son Habitat repurposes several of Dubuffet’s drawings, collaging them into a profoundly coherent, legible composition. Executed on paper then mounted on canvas, the artist used this medium to superimpose elements over one another crisply in ways not possible in a traditional painting. Planes of swirling lines and nascent forms intersect and overlap, creating a rich tapestry representing the breadth of Dubuffet’s ‘70s mark-making tendencies. Among the most esteemed artists of the 20th century, Dubuffet’s pioneering Art Brut practice continues to influence artists working today with its simplified approach to figuration and faux-naïve sensibility. Sécréter son Habitat perfectly encapsulates Dubuffet’s enduring appeal, synthesizing some of his most successful strategies into
a single, powerful canvas.

Integrating blocks of abstract color, freestanding sculptural forms and floating figures, Sécréter son Habitat showcases the broad gamut of Dubuffet’s most beloved visual hallmarks. Like a roadmap of Dubuffet’s mind in the mid ‘70s, the painting evidences his growing preoccupation with the loosely rendered figures and sculptural forms that would come to define the last years of his career, the latter typified by the Hourloupe Cycle and the Coucou Bazar. The islanded abstraction in the upper middle of the canvas clearly references these connected bodies of sculpture, with its thick black outlines defining passages of solid blue. Surrounding it are organic, cellular shapes in reds, tans, blues and greys. Below, in the direct center of the picture sits another, vaguer sculptural form, its boxy solidity and scantily rendered three-dimensionality suggesting a sculptural connection.

The two figures, one at the far right and one in the lower left, are excellent examples of Dubuffet’s later mode of rendering figures in what looks like a single continuous line. The figure at the right, seen in profile, recalls Dubuffet’s classic masterpiece Les Grandes Artères, in which a line of figures, also in profile, cross a wide street. The figure’s warm, pink body, hunched and bent into a soft S-shape, slinks toward the canvas edge with an uncertain expression. The figure at the bottom, depicted frontally and surrounded by a rounded outline, appears to clutch a baby against her bosom. Full lips and wide eyes suggest femininity, but the figure’s gender is ultimately unknown. The two transplanted people here seem to exist untethered to the wild composition behind them, transposed from different pictorial worlds and thrust into the maelstrom of Sécréter son Habitat.

The years surrounding this painting’s creation were fruitful for Dubuffet, and saw him keenly exploring the collage on canvas technique used to such success here, creating several large-scale paintings in this style. Collage, especially collage composed of his own painted works, allowed Dubuffet to further rebel against restrictive notions of artistic prudishness. By cannibalizing his own images, Dubuffet combined his various styles and motifs onto a single canvas, creating a colorful and intentionally discordant composition marked by carefully controlled abstraction. Indeed, this canvas is the most purposefully abstract of his collaged works of this period, and finds the artist pushing into territory that he had not—and perhaps could not—access with a simple oil on canvas painting. Abrupt cessations of motion and truncated areas of color lend the picture a syncopated, rhythmic quality more in line with the fiery abstract expressionists than the heady, measured Dubuffet.

Dubuffet, always one to buck trends and pursue his own singular artistic vision, rejects the popular ‘70s notion that painting had died a decade earlier and was no longer relevant or useful. Acting in a Dr. Frankenstein role, Dubuffet wryly revives the medium and contests its death certificate altogether. By collaging and composing disparate images into a single, grand canvas, Dubuffet disentangles the usually synchronized roles of painter and composer. He paints images, then composes the final picture at a later point in time, thereby separating the two acts and creating some critical distance between them. As this picture clearly shows, Dubuffet’s work—especially in the last decades of his career—stands as much on composition as on line or color. While adhering to the main visual and conceptual tenets of his work, laid out decades earlier, Dubuffet continues to advance his medium and push the painterly envelope.

Widely heralded as one of the great contributors to the storied and famously broad canon of Modernist painting, Dubuffet’s remarkable output began to reach its nexus point in the ‘60s and ‘70s as the painter pushed beyond the earthen tones that defined his earlier work. The present painting is an important and revelatory example of this shift toward bold, richly saturated colors that would come to define this most acclaimed moment in his career. Exulting in a patchwork of varied colors and tones, Dubuffet avails himself of the full spectrum of color, teasing out subtle relationships through abrupt and sudden transitions. Like the sculpture that would dominate the last years of his life, Sécréter son Habitat teases form out of bold, contrasting sections of color and prioritizes definitive lines as opposed to subtle, gradient color changes.

With its visual references to several of Dubuffet’s most beloved series, its powerful and dynamic use of color and its exceptionally devised composition, Sécréter son Habitat is a masterfully executed canvas, capturing a Modernist master at the height of his powers. The canvas confirms Dubuffet’s status, achieved later in his career, as one of the great painters of his generation while affirming his compositional prowess and innate command of the painted line. For Dubuffet, each canvas presents an opportunity to expand his immersive visual universe and develop his formal vocabulary. In the present picture, Dubuffet does both, adding to his extensive list of figurative motifs while incorporating rarely seen abstract elements, constructing a stirring, multidirectional picture. A powerful painting in its own right, Sécréter son Habitat is also an important document of a painter still willing to take risks decades into an extremely successful career.

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