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.
Joë Bousquet was a poet who had been paralyzed in World War I, and lived, bedridden, for over thirty years in Narbonne, in the south of France. Dubuffet shows him lying in bed. Beside him on the covers lie two of his books (La Connaissance du soir and Traduit du silence), a newspaper, two letters addressed to him, and a package of Gauloises cigarettes. The newspaperlike brochure for Dubuffet's October 1947 show in Paris included the announcement, "People are more beautiful than they think they are. Long live their true faces. . . . Portraits with a resemblance extracted, with resemblance cooked and conserved in the memory, with a resemblance exploded in the memory of Mr. Jean Dubuffet, painter." At a time when few modern artists were producing portraits, the perpetually rebellious Dubuffet depicted the intellectuals who were his friends, but he made no effort at descriptive or psychological exactness. Inspired by the art of children, the insane, and the unschooled (all of which he collected under the name l'art brut), he made crude, caricatural images, roughly scratched into a thick impasto. Repelled by the conformity of modern life, he hoped that this crudeness would make his work more authentic.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 212.