Giant red, white, and blue scribbles emphatically cover a bold yellow ground. This is one of Dubuffet’s Mires (Mires from the verb to look in French and Spanish), a series painted between 1983 and 1984. During that penultimate year of his life, the artist worked exclusively in a style that suggests both street graffiti and children’s drawings. The paintings are visually chaotic, tactile, and irrepressibly messy. All of the Mires paintings have subtitles that add references by calling on the colors and moods of places or events. Here, the subtitle Kowloon alludes to a densely populated and shambolic neighborhood in Hong Kong.
Arne Glimcher, the founder of Pace Gallery, knew that Dubuffet had never visited Kowloon and asked him why he used that title. In their conversation Dubuffet explained that “they were the street scenes of Kowloon in his mind. The paintings are a cacophony of noise, a haze of interloping and cyclical marks. They have no beginning and no end, no root, no figure, no individual person. The lines swarm at the cusp of a great void, tensely posed for one last snapshot before entering into the unknown, the non-place (or non-lieux).”
Jean Dubuffet (1901 – 1985) took up painting as a teenager and at age seventeen moved to Paris to study at the Académie Julian. He stayed there for six months before moving on to other commercial endeavors, including working in his family’s wine business. By 1942 Dubuffet decided to dedicate himself to painting while also collecting work he dubbed Art Brut – artwork made by the untrained, often children or the mentally ill. He claimed this work possessed “a strength that derived from desire, from magic…Isolated from society [the brut-ists] create their own feasts.” Dubuffet’s own painting drew heavily from Art Brut as well as the work of his colleagues in Dada and Surrealist circles.
By the end of his life he was one of the most celebrated French painters. In 1976 Dubuffet’s own collection of art brut was permanently installed in the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.