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Jean Dubuffet was born on July 31, 1901 in Le Havre, France. Dubuffet studied briefly at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he befriended fellow artists Juan Gris, André Masson, and Fernand Léger. After only six months, finding himself unsuited to academic training, Dubuffet left to study independently. This rejection of traditional training and standards of beauty in favor of what he believed to be a more authentic approach to art making would become a defining characteristic of his mature works. 

After leaving the Académie, Dubuffet explored other interests such as noise music, poetry, and linguistics, traveling extensively and opening a wine business in Paris. In 1934, Dubuffet briefly returned to painting, only committing himself to art full-time beginning in 1942. The following year, he began his “Metro” series, which utilized bright colors, crude brushwork, and a deliberately naïve drawing style to render scenes of quotidian life. “The more banal a thing may be, the better it suits me,” Dubuffet once said. “Luckily I do not consider myself exceptional in any way. In my paintings, I wish to recover the vision of an average and ordinary man.” City life would play an important role throughout Dubuffet’s oeuvre, notably seen again in his “Paris Circus” series of the 1960s. 

In 1945, inspired by the artist Jean Fautrier, Dubuffet began using thick oil paint mixed with materials such as mud, sand, pebbles, glass, cement, and tar, allowing him to abandon the traditional method of applying paint with a brush and further distancing himself from conventional artistic methods. This technique is best seen in his “hautes pâtes” series, as well as the “pâtes battues” series, where a thick layer of white paste would be applied with a plaster knife over a dark ground.

Dubuffet is also well known as the father of “Art Brut,” or raw art. Following sojourns in France and Switzerland, he discovered the work of untrained artists who were often mentally ill or possessed other disabilities. Inspired by their alternative creativity, Dubuffet amassed a large collection of these paintings throughout his life. 

Dubuffet had his first solo exhibition in 1944 at the Galerie René Drouin in Paris. Retrospectives of his work include a showing in 1959 at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, as well as a retrospective in 1960 covering the years 1942-1960 at the Musée Des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. In 1985, the Fondation Maeght exhibited a retrospective of paintings, sculpture, and drawings. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, among many others.

Jean Dubuffet died May 12, 1985 in Paris. His legacy is continued through the Fondation Jean Dubuffet, established by the artist in 1973, which houses items from his personal collection available to the public, and which acquires and conserves his works. 

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