It was not until he was forty-one, after a career in the wine business, that Jean Dubuffet turned decisively to art, and, during the next forty years he became a prolific painter, sculptor, printmaker, and experimental writer. With no systematic training, he railed against prevailing notions of good taste and official culture, preferring the spontaneous energy of graffiti and the art of children and the mentally ill. In postwar Paris, Dubuffet worked in a style called l'art brut, depicting fanciful figures in everyday activities that seem irrational, given his flattened perspectives, crude drawing, and unexpected juxtapositions.
Dubuffet began making prints in the mid-1940s, achieving a total output of some fifteen hundred works, many for illustrated books. In the process he revolutionized lithography. His experimentation with surface texture is visible even in the early Matière et mémoire of 1944–45 in which he scratched the lithographic stones with sandpaper, rubbed them with rags, and used other unconventional materials to achieve the varied effects he desired.
Dubuffet's unorthodox approach to lithography reached its zenith with the Phenomena series of 1957–62, comprising three hundred sixty-two compositions sorted into twenty-four albums. Here, working at five different workshops he maintained for the project, he created an alternative universe that seems to capture ever-changing forces of nature. Turning an established technique of drawing with crayon and brush into an improvisational event, he sought the effects of chance and accident by impressing dirt, fruit peelings, and leaves onto his printing surfaces, dragging across burning rags, and spilling chemicals onto them. He also cut up his Phenomena compositions, reassembling elements for new works such as Carrot Nose and La Lunette farcie.
Although his active engagement with printmaking ended with the Phenomena series, Dubuffet eventually worked in screenprint to capture the imagery of his final L'Hourloupe phase. This invented word signified a schematic, jigsaw-puzzle-like figuration of black outlines discovered when the artist was doodling. An early manifestation in photolithography can be seen in the small illustrated book Trémolo sur l'oeil.
Publication excerpt from Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 134.