Today is the 88th birthday of the French artist Francois Dufrene. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: Francois Dufrene
BIRTH DATE: September 21, 1930
PLACE OF BIRTH: Paris, France
DATE OF DEATH: December 12, 1982
PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France
Born in Paris, François Dufrêne decided as a young man to pursue poetry rather than visual art. In 1946, he joined Lettrisme (Lettrism), a group of experimental sound poetry that had formed in Paris around the Romanian artist Isidore Isou. Dufrêne actively created radically new sound experiments in these years. Like the other members of the Lettrist circle, he sought to carry the poetic experiments of the pre-war group Dada even further, but rupturing language from meaning and breaking it down to its constituent parts. He developed a particular mode of sound poetry composed of guttural shrieks and cries, which he called crirythme. Dufrêne was also interested in the relation between language, image, and meaning, and in 1953, he developed Tambours du Jugement premier, an imaginary movie, with no screen or film. Around 1957, he developed a new mode of visual art production: he would rip off posters hung on the streets of Paris, and present them framed and hung as paintings. These palimpsest collages of found text and image offered an encounter, in his words, of “almost geological infrastructures” made up by the different layers of paper.
Dufrêne, along with Jean-Louis Brau and Gil J Wolman, split from the main Lettrist group in 1958. Calling themselves the Ultra-Lettrist, they continued to pursue experiments in poetry, sound, and performance, now seeking to draw out the single letter as a radical constellation of oral, phonemic, and guttural articulations. The group produced a periodical called grammeS, which ran for seven issues between 1957 and 1961. In the journal they published hypergraphics, a critical method that synthesizes writing and other forms of media, and included exchanges with the Lettrist journal Poésie Nouvelle and the Situationist International. In the early 1970s, Dufrêne created stencils and stamps, using a layered approach similar to that found in his poster collages. He continued to experiment with sound and text as well. His poem Cantante des mots camés (1972-77), a sonorous structure made of syllabic combinations, was re-imagined as a collection of drawings in 1977.
In 1960, Dufrêne became involved with the Nouveau Réalisme (New Realists) group, co-founded by the art critic Pierre Restany and the painter Yves Klein. Other artists involved included Arman, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, and two other Ultra-Lettrists, Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Villeglé. The group was short-lived, however; they struggled to sustain a cohesive program following the death of Yves Klein in June 1962. Dufrêne’s first solo exhibition occurred the following year. He continued to produce art until the time of his death in 1982.