Jean Dubuffet – Brutal Beauty || ed Eleanor Nairne

The term Art Brut never conjures up an appealing image. It’s something that suffers from the way meanings vary in different languages and sounds a lot better when translated as Raw Art. Now you want to know more about it.

Dubuffet coined the term to refer to self-taught, or perhaps instinctive, creators who include psychiatric patients, prisoners, graffitists and tattooists. It’s a tribute to him, perhaps, that no one today would think of excluding those last two categories from the general canon of Art. Prisoners we can discuss – why should they be more or less likely to create work worthy of attention simply by virtue of their incarceration? One of my most treasured pieces is a primitive shaping (carving is perhaps too elaborate a word) made by a lifer in Hull prison some time in the 1980s. As for the psychiatric patients, I can say only one thing: Richard Dadd.

Perhaps Dubuffet’s greatest gift was his ability to see beauty everywhere, with no conventions or preconceptions. What is perhaps truly remarkable is that this is a beautiful book. Presented with images that, in many cases, defy any pre-existing rules, we are invited to examine and appreciate them, and we do. It is, I suppose, like being presented with an atonal piece and being told it’s music – push us even a short way down the path and we soon begin to understand.

This is published to accompany an exhibition at the Barbican, held from April to August 2021. Good luck with getting to see it, then. As is the case with this kind of publication, access to high quality images is not a problem and the reproduction is absolutely of the quality you have a right to expect. Eleanor Nairne provides an account of Jean Dubuffet’s artistic life and work and progresses to the history of the Art Brut movement itself, with pieces about an excellent variety of its followers and their works, all of which are fully illustrated.

Given the difficulty in present times of getting to and into exhibitions, their accompanying publications are taking on a particular importance. This will have been planned long before the pandemic, but the result looks almost as though it knew it had a lot of weight to carry and is a welcome substitute if you can’t make the physical journey yourself.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

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