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Bernard Buffet’s Existentialist Paintings Will Definitely Bum You Out

Post-war paintings of a personal world of angst.
Deux clowns à la grosse caisse, 1989. All images courtesy of Opera Gallery.

With thick, abrasive black lines, Bernard Buffet's paintings appear as though they have been scratched and clawed onto canvas. Born in Paris in 1928, the expressionist artist created figurative works that illustrated the bleak and opaque sides of human emotion; feelings that are not always easily or freely communicated. Recently, Opera Gallery in New York showcased a broad range of Buffet's oeuvre, illustrating why Buffet was one of Europe's leading post-war artists.


"Both the art and life of Bernard Buffet are riveting and controversial," a spokesperson from Opera Gallery told Creators. "The timing of the exhibition follows the success of Buffet's retrospective at the Musee de l'Art Moderne in Paris and the resurgence of attention to his compelling art which leaves no one indifferent. Albeit being praised then subsequently excluded from critical acclaim by the French system, Buffet remains at the highest echelons of 20th century Post-War European painting."

Nu aux Perroquets, 1990

Although the gallery has been exhibiting Buffet's artwork for many years, the exhibition illustrated that New York art collectors, in particular, are still intrigued by Buffet and his melancholy art. "In showcasing a myriad of Buffet's artworks from the early 50s until his death in 1999, a deeper understanding of the artist's distinctive style throughout the years and across all subject matters is put into art historical context," Opera Gallery explains.

Bouquet de fleurs, 1953

Buffet illustrates feelings which bubble under the surface; emotions that are often best spoken through an artist's hand. He paints both his characters and landscapes without hesitation, producing melancholy narratives that allow the spectator to play detective and carefully decipher the stories he has smudged onto canvas. Throughout his life, Buffet remained committed to his figurative technique and the atmosphere he aspired to evoke. By rejecting abstraction, he conveyed his anxiety about life through spiky brushstrokes and flat colors. "Buffet's oeuvre stayed consistent to his intense, linear black outlines, elongated gaunt figures, barren landscapes and an adherence to figurative painting," the gallery explains.


Le pétrin, 1953

Buffet's emotive work gives insight into his inner thoughts: how his mood and life stories transferred onto canvas. An artist with a prolific career, Buffet was a member of the anti-abstraction group The Witness-Man. This controversial group argued for the importance of representational art at a time when abstract art was more favorable and dominated the art world. For Buffet, abstract art was solely decorative; it was a false art form that did not represent real life. Rejecting it entirely, Buffet painted what he observed in reality: lifeless hair, somber moods, unpleasant weather, wrinkles, and sagging flesh. With their hollow eyes, his characters appear harrowed and gaunt, and with his use of muddy colors, he paints his landscapes equally melancholy. In the gallery's words, "Bernard Buffet's world fascinates and consumes the viewer into his personal world of angst."

Saules près de l'étang, 1990

Clown, 1968

Le Château-fort rose, 1998

The Bernard Buffet exhibition ran from May 11–June 01, 2017. To learn more about the artist, visit Opera Gallery.


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