Dubuffet made this drawing while visiting the poet Joë Bousquet, who had been wounded in World War I and was confined to his bed. Bousquet is bounded by his headboard and linens, books and newspapers at his feet and a package of Gauloises cigarettes at the ready. The work is a study for a painting, also in MoMA’s collection, and both are part of Dubuffet’s series More Beautiful Than They Think (Portraits), approximately 150 portraits created in 1946 and 1947 depicting contemporary writers and thinkers.
Dubuffet layered black gouache on top of gesso then incised the surface to reveal the white pigment below, a technique he described as an “ingenious [way] to transcribe objects onto flat surfaces” to “make the surface speak its own surface-language.” The style of this loosely rendered portrait reflects Dubuffet’s interest in artworks by prisoners, children, and the mentally ill, a category of expression that he termed Art Brut (Raw Art). Dubuffet believed that these marginalized artistic practices, unfettered by the conventions of fine art, could provide liberation from the stifling constraints of Western “asphyxiating culture.” In addition to taking cues from such artworks in his own work, he also promoted and preserved them, amassing one of the world’s premiere collections of Art Brut, now in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Paralyzed during World War I, the poet Joë Bousquet was bedridden for decades until his death in 1950. Dubuffet depicts him in bed with two of his books, a newspaper, two letters addressed to him, and a package of Gauloises cigarettes. The abstract rendering of Bousquet's face and surroundings deliberately rejects physical exactness. Dubuffet championed graffiti and l'art brut—his term for the art of children, the insane, and "primitives"—as necessary alternatives to European modernism. "Let us find other ingenious ways to transcribe objects onto flat surfaces; make the surface speak its own surface-language and not a false three-dimensional language which is alien to it," he stated. Here the highly textured and gritty pigments help realize this painting’s particular "surface-language."
Gallery label from 2015.