Jeann Dubuffet & David Smith

The culture of the twentieth century is one of the most difficult to study in the history of world culture. It is a well-known fact, since no other age knew such tragic social upheaval, terrible world wars, stunning scientific and technological progress, and a broad national liberation movement. In the twentieth century, there were a number of trends and tendencies of artistic culture, which for a long time were perceived as actions aimed at opposing all artistic traditions. The novel art was termed Modernism, new art, and the artistic avant-garde. In the literal meaning, all these names highlight innovative and non-traditional artistic movements. Jean Dubuffet and David Smith were to represent the brightest and most interesting artistic directions of the twentieth century namely abstract art and the avant-garde. Despite the fact they represented different cultures, namely European and American, they still had something in common such as their vision and striving for new image of the contemporary art.

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After World War II, several artists have felt the need for a profound rethink of creativity. Their art was called informal, since it took nothing from the past and did not uphold any rules and regulations. Jean Dubuffet and David Smith were the members of this group, the purpose of which was to get rid of traditions and enter the uncharted territory in order to find eternal spontaneity of the human hand when it draws a line.

Jean Dubuffet was born in Le Havre  in 1901 and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. Finding his own path in art, he twice ceased painting to lend support to the family business. At forty-two years, being supported by family capital, he decided to abandon the decaying culture and look for inspiration in street art. Since then, his life became inseparably connected to creativity.

Dubuffet created sketches in na?ve manner, similar to the childrens creation, representing the little man in the most ordinary situations (for example, in the subway), combining sand, gravel, gypsum and pieces of rope in traditional paint. He was the founder of art Brut that is the artistic style that hates stifling culture (the title of his book). Dubuffet easily worked in any technique and with the most unexpected materials. In fact, the material for him was another tool to determine the effect of the overall artwork. Jean Dubuffets polymorphic heritage includes about 10 thousand artworks.

David Roland Smith is also famous for his abstract expressionism, which he created in the form of geometric sculptures from steel blocks, plates, and wires, among others. He was born in 1906 in Indiana. The idea of ??creating pieces of art from metal came to him while he worked as a welder at the factory. Afterward, he moved to New York where he began to study painting and drawing. Apparently, being inspired by metal artworks of Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez, Smith created his first sculpture. By combining his skills in welding and metal processing, which he had received as the welder, as well as his knowledge of painting, he began to create such impressive sculptures that were capturing audience. In fact, the artist got his recognition in the early 1950s. At this time, he was awarded a scholarship by Guggenheim Foundation. During his activity, the sculptor has created more than seven hundred works.

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David Smith has developed new approaches to composition. They allowed keeping the viewer at a distance not only emotionally but also intellectually. The artist did not allow one to judge the brightness and power of the work as a whole. On the contrary, the viewer was forced to consider the work in parts, when gradually moving from one part to another. The artist used the method distributing the sculptures from the center to the edges of the exposure. Thus, this is what makes the visitor visually move from one artwork to another element.

As it can be seen, both artists were subject to the ideas of freedom, difference and conventionality. Among the wide range of works they created during their life, there are two that caught special attention, namely The Group of Four Trees (1969-1972) by Jean Dubuffet and Cubi I (1963) by David Smith. These two artworks were created at approximately one period and perfectly represent the world and culture according to artists visions.

Anyone could see the work Group of Four Trees by Jean Dubuffet in the Chase Manhattan Plaza. Talking about the sculpture, these are four white, irregularly shaped supports, piled with flat, smoothly rounded, wavy, flowing margins, sinters and processes, on a white background of which swirls and spirals coal-black lines are rippled. The whole structure weighing 25 tons is an aluminum frame covered with a thick membrane of fiberglass and plastic resins that are painted with epoxy paint.

The history of the emergence of this sculpture is simple. In 1972, wanting to decorate the area in front of his agency, the head of Chase Manhattan Bank David Rockefeller decided that landing the usual trees would seem too small. Thus, he invited the French sculptor Jean Dubuffet to create something suitable. As a result, the sculpture was born, which was bought by Rockefeller and then presented to the bank.


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Cubi I by David Smith has even more simple history. The sculpture is a part of his famous series of works Cubi. Apparently, this series was created as the artists representation of his struggle to simple and abstract art. The work reflects the contemporary modernism of time as well as the tendency to create a monumental work from industrial materials. The number of the sculpture does not represent the order according to which it was created but for the inscriptions the author welded to the base of every sculpture from the series.

Comparing two works, one can say that they have a lot in common. They both represent the new wave of the art of that time as well as individual preferences of their creators. The Group of Four Trees, for example, portrays a sharp contrast with the clear vertical and horizontal lines of the bank, at the foot of which it stands similarly to Dubuffets creative idea, contrasting with conventional and accurate traditional art styles. David Smith, in his turn, reflects his internal simplicity and geometry. Despite the fact that his sculpture is geometric, it is as figural as Dubuffets Trees, since it reflects the equilibrium of life and nature. The creator himself called the welded cubicles square clouds. In addition, as it was said earlier, Cubi I is a contribution to art tendencies of the middle of the twentieth century. The use of industrial materials was rather popular of that time, and one can prove it by the example of Four Trees and Cubi I. They both are created from industrial and uncommon materials with uncommon techniques such as welding and covering.

One can also see that the described sculptures change the surrounding reality. Four Trees highlights and shades the plain and geometric buildings around it. In fact, it seems both large and small; thus, on the background of buildings around it is very small, but if to compare it with the human height, it is monumental. The surface of Cubi I is polished in order to reflect the surrounding and to dissolve in it. In addition, depending on lighting condition, the image of the sculpture is changing and, therefore, is perceived differently.

Similarities do not end with the similar messages and perceptions of these artworks. Linking the sculptures to the cultural context, one can say that they reflect contemporary culture of that time. Europe at the beginning of 1970s was at post-industrial stage and at the beginning of sexual revolution. Moreover, this time was characterized by gradual change in views. The traditional and conservative Europe experienced freedom of expression in different terms. Therefore, Dubuffet with his irrational art and uncommon sculptures reflects these tendencies in the best way. Europe was like his Four Trees; although it is not so easy to see four trees in this sculpture, but after tips, one can really see something resembling a group of four closely standing trees and the crown which partially overlap each other. The same can be said about Europe, since one can hardly see an Old World among feminists, lesbians, gays and sexuality, but after considering some hints, the picture becomes clear.


Talking about American cultural identity in 1960s, David Smith perfectly reflected it in his sculpture. On the background of growing simplicity of human relationships (in 1960, the idea of human equality prevailed in the country) was shown in his works. Moreover, his sculpture teaches the observer to pay attention to details when discussing the whole picture. Thus, this was a kind of a tip for contemporary society that said to be a democratic nation as a whole but does not meet this standard in particular.

The idea of tribal art forms, where a group of people related to each other, was very interesting to Smith. On this basis, he tried to give it a modern form. The psychologist Sigmund Freuds ideas about totems enabled Smith to think of them as a symbol of goodness symbolizing a world where there is so much violence and cruelty. Indeed, violence and cruelty were growing in America at that time. Subsequently, Cubi I represents the changing artists reality and culture of his country.

To summarize, it becomes obvious that European and American cultures are not as varied as they seemed to be. Despite the fact that being from different continents, the artists created the discussed artworks that have a lot in common, starting from the form and materials and ending with their purpose and cultural context. The ability of Lean Dubuffet and David Smith to combine simple materials and rather primitive techniques gave the possibility not only to create the image of the middle of the twentieth century in their cultures but also to open a new vision for further abstract art development, consequences of which one can observe in the contemporary art.