The Road of Humankind by Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet

The Road of Humankind, 1944, Oil on canvas, 129 x 96 cm, Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Gift of Ludwig, © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Photo: akg-images

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'There you will see him'

Commentary by

George Dubuffet (1901–85) coined the phrase art brut (‘raw art’, often called ‘outsider art’) to describe the rejection of the artistic canons of professional training in favour of promoting an artistic style free of cultural convention. Chalk scribbling on a sidewalk, children’s drawings, and images produced by the mentally ill inspired the artist, challenging conventional perception and inviting the mind 'to adjust to a new fragmentary and discontinuous perspective, and for it to decide to radically change its old operating procedures' (Dubuffet 1989: 42).

The painted canvas of Men on Road pushes beyond two- towards three-dimensionality. And it is at once a bird’s eye and straight-on view of a landscape. Dubuffet mixes a thick paste of oil and materials such as sand to create a bitumen surface on which he scratches fields and other details of the landscape and draws a childlike picture of travellers on a curving road, walking toward a house that threatens to drop off the edge of the flat horizon at the top. A man on a bike is smiling, his legs simultaneously on either side of the pedals; a cow’s teats (lower left) hang between impossible legs. Dubuffet’s carefully crafted view invites us to look again at the world around us, capturing a celebration of existence through an art whose ‘chaotic swarming … enriches and enlarges the world’ (Dubuffet 1989: 73).

The young man at the empty tomb promises that if the disciples go to Galilee they will see the raised Jesus there. In Matthew’s Gospel this is exactly what happens (28:16–20), but Mark does not furnish us with this ending. The women flee in terror and tell no one. So ends the Gospel in its oldest (shortest) version.

Or does it? One suggestion has been that the ending is an instruction to return to the start of the Gospel and reread it as a call to see Easter by living the resurrection amidst the ‘Galilees’ of our daily lives. Mark’s Easter story is not once upon a time, but always present. Where we are is where we will see him. Easter as ‘art brut’ asks us to open our eyes for the outsider’s perspective, from an empty tomb onto our daily lives.

 

References

Dubuffet, Jean. 1986. Asphyxiating Culture and Other Writings, Trans. by Carol Volk (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows)