Image of the week: A Busy Life by Dubuffett

Image of the week: A Busy Life by Dubuffett



Painted in August 1953.

It is one of the series of paintings known as ‘Beaten Pastes’ (P√Ętes battues) executed between March and December 1953 of which Dubuffet has written:

‘These paintings are done with a smooth light coloured (almost white) paste, fairly thick, spread unevenly and rapidly with a plasterer’s knife over layers already thickly painted and still fresh, in such a way that the various colours underneath show where the paste is missing, as well as tint the paste here and there. Then rudimentary figures, hastily traced with a round knife cutting into the paste, play over the surface like graffiti, the variously coloured strokes corresponding to the generally dark colours of the previously painted layers. I derived a curiously keen satisfaction from these designs cut into the paste (this white paste, ordinary pigment so finely ground as to resemble butter, gives them a lively subtle character). I am not sure whether this was due to the delicately shaded colorations they made visible, or to the way they seem to record the hasty character of the hand’s movements (to me very eloquent). Then finally with a large brush I once more applied (but this time over all the layers) a few colours which blended and blurred all the rest. I am at a loss to explain just what it was in these paintings that gave me – that still gives me – such a keen satisfaction. It has probably something to do with the physical pleasure derived from spreading freely, with a large spatula as broad as one’s hand, this beautiful white paste, dazzling and consistent, over a ground previously covered with dark colours, and then letting the long knife with rounded end wander over the smooth paste, tracing with such perfect ease graffiti of sonorous colours. It is the same pleasure that guides the hand of anyone who traces a very hasty design or a word in the fresh plaster of a wall or the freshly smoothed cement of a floor. The hasty uncontrolled character of the resulting design in my picture affords me acute pleasure. I get a feeling of satisfaction from the rough and rudimentary character that this hasty drawing gives to the objects I wish to evoke – the lines intentionally drawn to indicate the presence of some object are often indistinguishable from those that result from the rapid application of the paste and its “misses”, so that the enveloping indefiniteness bathes the whole picture in a kind of ambiguity. Indeed far from keeping me from successfully evoking the subject I set out to represent, this ambiguity actually helps more in this respect than if the objects were clearly defined. It would seem that my obsession for representing things only in a rudimentary and uncertain manner forces the imagination of the person looking at the painting to function more vigorously than it would if the objects were more precisely represented, to such a degree that everything appears to his imagination, thus violently stimulated, with unaccustomed intensity



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