Dubuffet's return to painting was accompanied by a passion for primitive and naive art forms, as well as for paintings made by the psychologically disturbed. By 1945 he had started to collect so called 'ugly art' or Art Brut, and in 1948 he founded a society to promote this type of work. He also wrote some important statements, criticizing the cultural aims of post-Renaissance Western art, in the place of which he advocated the more spontaneous, non-verbal, and spiritually potent qualities of primitive cultural expression. This resulted in a totemic approach to image making which soon revealed itself in his first exhibition, where city life and images of men and women were presented with an aggressively simple and childish vigor. These paintings looked more like graffiti covered walls or tribal emblems than conventional oil paint.
In 1945 Dubuffet painted one of his first portraits, a drawing of Jean Paulhan, who later introduced the artist to the group of writers and intellectuals that frequently met at the house of Florence Gould. She persuaded him to make another portrait, of the writer Paul L'Eautaud. This developed into a series and eventually into the third of Dubuffet's major exhibitions entitled Plus beaux qu'ils croient (portraits) (Better looking than they think). Dhotel nuancé d'abricot was one of this group. Andre Dhotel is its subject.
Dubuffet's technique in Dhotel nuancé d'abricot can be reconstructed from a studio log book kept by him at the time. Laying the stretched canvas on the floor, he covered its entire surface with a thick, sticky pate of light colored oil paint applied with a spatula, like icing a cake. While it was still wet he took handfuls of ashes and sprinkled them over the whole area to darken the paint. Over this he dropped sand and then coal dust which would all, to a certain extent, sink into the surface. At this point some color was put on in the form of a thin 'apricot' mixture of yellow ochre, white and crimson brushed over the surface broadly. Some pure crimson was also put on, and is still visible through parts of the black crust.
The surface was now prepared to be totally covered with thick black paint troweled across with a palette knife, possibly with the addition of more ashes and dust. There was still no trace of the image at this stage - it would have looked instead like a plain smoke-blackened wall. With a broad spatula Dubuffet then carefully rubbed the materials into the surface and put the canvas on an easel to let any excess fall off.