Thursday, August 28, 2003

  Monday's berry-fest prompted Beth at The Cassandra Pages to consider an example of American folk painting and initiate a discussion on "primitive" art. That, in turn, inspired me to explore the tradition of Eastern European "naive art", manifestations of which I have enjoyed instinctively via its derivatives for a long time. In mid-20th century, this genre thrived in Poland, Croatia, Czechia, Slovakia, and beyond. The very active rich folk art traditions in these countries already included elaborate and gifted crafts and musical components. Needless to say, each country's heritage also abounds in "high-art", produced by painters, sculptors and architects who trained professionally either at local academies or in Western Europe. However, the body of work produced by a couple of generations of "naive" artists, most of whom received little training, guidance or exposure to the art world and its history, and who painted in their brief leisure time, unoccupied by agricultural activities, is undeniably impressive and influential. I also happen to find the style and execution of many of Eastern European primitivist paintings exhilarating.

"Garden Party", 1968, Ivan Generalic "Winter with People", 1936, Ivan Generalic

Like most other "naive" artists, Ivan Generalic, one of the best known Croatian artists of the period, painted surroundings, people, and activities of his immediate vicinity and experience. Low hills, modest houses, the glory of nature and its cornucopia, and visualization of the oral folk tradition are some of the trademark elements of Generalic's artworks. In the layering of a rural landscape and even in the range of the color palette, the creations of Generalic and a few others in the genre are intimately linked with Pieter Bruegel's canvases. Among other distinguishing characteristics, Bruegel's perspective and dimensionality are less linear and the facial expressions he paints are definitely more individualized, but certain quirkiness is shared by Bruegel and Ivan Generalic. While Bruegel's somber grotesqueness along with finery and variety of brushstrokes may put his works on a different plane, a kinship does exist between these playful captures of country life.

"Apples", 1973, Josip Generalic "My Stork", 1971, Josip Generalic

Although the qualifiers of "naive" and "primitive" have stuck with the genre and are unlikely to be replaced with reassessed terminology, I cannot help feeling icky about using them. "Naive art" is a caustic term. But so are the tendencies of most disciplines to categorize and classify things that are by nature above categorization and classification. In any case, concept, approach, and treatment of what used to be called "primitive art" have changed significantly in recent years. People that rush under the umbrella of "art brut" or "outsider art" today are different from those who used to be associated with the "naive" art genre. The art world at large embraced these art expressions a while ago and enforced demands on the art and artists of past and present, diluting them in the process. Excessive demand and too much time spent in the spotlight can be pretty detrimental.

Plenty of examples of the works by Ivan Generalic, as well as those by his son and grandson, Josip and Goran, can be found at generalic.com, along with a chronology of naive art in Croatia. Note also the somewhat bizarre appeal to steer clear of Generalic fakes circulating in the world. More examples of art by the Generalic family are available.

You may also wish to sample a collection of food-themed paintings by other Croatian naive artists, including Martin Mahek, Mato Toth, Stjepan Vecernaj, Vladimir Ivancan, Dragutin Orak, and Berislav Janekovic. Mijo Kovacic is another Croatian artist to consider. Ivan Rabuzin is of interest too. There are a handful of images and a brief history at the simple and neat looking site of the Croatian Museum of Naive Art.

A variety of information is housed on the site of the Museum of Naive Art in Jagodina, Yugoslavia.

The genre is not limited to this region, of course. However, I had little luck finding many interesting examples online.

The Georgia native Niko Pirosmanashvili is a prominent figure in the history of "naive" art, though, personally, I am unmoved by his works.

I imagine that the "Naive Art" volume by Natalia Brodskaia, published in 2000, would be of considerable interest.

If you are aware of relevant sites and artists not mentioned above, be sure to let me know.

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