Fred Deux… the discipline of drawing



Art does not fall obediently into the categories we have created; in fact, it tends to evaporate as soon as its name is uttered, preferring to travel incognito. Its best moments are when it is unconscious of being art.
Jean Dubuffet from Prospectus et tous écrits suivants (1967-1995)

Aged 91, Fred DEUX passed away on 9 September 2015. He devoted his life to drawing and was substantially influenced by contacts with André Breton, Paul Klee, Max Ernst and Hans Bellmer. The constraints imposed by his artistic and literary work prompted him to lead an introspective lifestyle, far from the turbulence of artistic fashion and the art market. As a result, his oeuvre has strong psychological intensity, and, from a market perspective, Deux is way behind his peers.

Fred Deux underwent a number of life mutations: electrician, bookseller, Surrealist artist, tuberculosis patient, writer, drawer. As an artist, he may be situated somewhere between Outsider Art (since he disobeyed the established rules) and Henri Michaux.
Born in Boulogne Billancourt in 1924 to a working class family, Fred Deux grew up in the basement of a stately building – occasionally flooded and infested with rats – living conditions that had repercussions on his health (tuberculosis). Working night-duties as a maintenance electrician in 1939, he subsequently joined his factory’s FTP resistance group in 1943. This was his first gesture of refusal. In 1944, not wishing to return to factory work, he joined the Moroccan Goums regiment of the French Army (active in the Vosges, Alsace and Germany), but, refusing to serve France’s colonial policy after the war, he was discharged in 1948 and settled in Marseille.
In Marseille, Deux worked in a bookshop, discovered literature and spent more time reading than selling books. Among his discoveries: Blaise Cendrars, André Breton (the Surrealist Manifesto), Louis Aragon, George Battle and Benjamin Peret. He was also particularly inspired by a MoMA catalogue featuring works by Paul Klee. His first two artworks were created using bicycle paint and involved “spontaneous” gestures that he regarded as “particularly true”. He also began writing notes for what would become Les rats, the first version of La Gana. His early artworks (1949-1958) are sometimes nicknamed kleepathologies in reference to the influence of Paul Klee.

In 1951, he was noticed by Jean Cassou, then director of the National Museum of Modern Art. He also met André Breton, joined the Surrealists and met Cécile Reims who would become his companion and printer. Anxious to preserve his independence and creative freedom, he left the Surrealist group in 1954. In 1958, his autobiographical novel La Gana was published by René Julliard under the pseudonym Jean Douassot (the Jean Douassot-Fred Deux duality expressed his double vocation as a writer-illustrator). Awarded the prestigious Prix de Mai, the book gave Deux initial exposure to a wider public. Several literary publications followed, including: Sens inverse (1963), La Perruque (1969) and Nœud coulant (1971).

Drawing versus the art world

A little-known artist, immersed in the quietness of a life devoted to drawing, Fred Deux remained in the shadows of the international art market. While many fans of French art passionately collect his works (the French market represents 97% of his auction turnover), they have never been subject to speculation. Deux’s reclusive life ultimately made his work more affordable today than it deserves. This is illustrated by an auction record of just €14,000 (for a set of three drawings: L’être en vie, l’envie d’être, 103 x 64 cm, 1991 / 93, sold at Lombrail Teucquam in April 2008), whereas the most expensive drawing by his friend Hans BELLMER fetched €158,000 (Hans Bellmer, Céphalopode, 49.5 x 46.5 cm, c.1939, Christie’s London in February 2002). The huge value gap between these two major artists is due to the former’s lack of international notoriety. Although the French market is increasingly interested (his prices have risen 371% since 2000, including +28% over the past 18 months), Fred Deux remains an underrated signature on the market; an artist and a “cult” author, who resisted the limelight.

His drawings have been widely exhibited, including at the Cantini Museum in Marseille in 1989, the National Museum of Modern Art (Pompidou Centre) in 1980 and in 2004, the Halle Saint Pierre in 2008, the Carcassonne Museum in 2011 and the National Library in Paris. Several major institutions, including the National Museum of Modern Art, the National Library, the Cantini Museum and the Museum of the Saint-Roch Hospice (Issoudun) have acquired major collections of his works. The Issoudun museum has the largest collection of Fred Deux works with nearly two hundred drawings and three hundred engravings.