‘Dubuffet Drawings, 1935-1962’ Shows French Artist in His Formative Stage

Jean Dubuffet is best known for his unshaped geometric doodles of patterns and shapes – hourloupes – that made up his works of the later 20th Century. He built a room with an undulating floor and walls decorated with them at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and proposed a tower in that style for the Parc de Saint-Cloud just outside the capital, where it was rejected as too incongruous with the classical landscape design there. But the Hammer is giving Angelenos an up-close-and-personal look at mid-century drawings that predated the hourloupes and charted his course as a rare outsider of the art world who achieved acclaim and produced an enduring body of work.

Dubuffet Drawings, 1935-1962,” at the Westwood museum in a late winter-spring show, features about 100 of his works from his formative years as an artist. He came late to art, after a career in wine, started drawing and painting in the grim years of the Nazi occupation of France, and is known for rejecting traditional notions of composition and aesthetics in order to express an inner authenticity. To do that, he tried to capture the spirit of children’s drawings, graffiti art and the works of psychiatric patients – all unburdened by anything academic.

The drawings were rounded up from private collections throughout the United States and France. They include strange scenes, such as “The Farmer’s Wife,” stranger portraits, such as “Four Figures,” a sketch of people strangely out of proportion, and near abstract renditions of humans, such as the “Figure With a Hat and Superimposed Low Breasts,” and “Lady’s Body.” The former is decorated with childlike splotches of water color and the latter is a swirl of lines and dots around two small eyes behind glasses, and resembles nothing so much as Ralph Steadman’s illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Dubuffet’s sense of humor and absurdity is considered to be a leading influence of the generations that followed him.

The show comes to the Hammer after a stop at the Morgan Library in New York, where it was well-reviewed in the Times. “Perhaps the recent fashion for early Dubuffet is just a matter of taste — and these days, elite taste runs to all things unrefined,” wrote Jason Farago. “But Dubuffet’s greatness lies in his frustration of elite tastes.”

“Jean Dubuffet, Drawings 1935-1962” is Jan. 29 – April 30 at the Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood.