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Charm and Opulence of Naive art

July 19, 2016
Alias of Ksenija Pantelić

What makes the Naïve art genre timeless is its reflection and fresh innocence it ues to describe the human narrative. We can almost sense the abandoning of the world’s chaos and the ‘ dipping of paint into the author’s heart’ guiding the brush and color towards a creation of idealized images that hold a refreshing sense of innocence. Allowing the paintings to reflect a brighter side of life, the naïve and folk art around the world brings to us easy to recognize scenes, depictions of everyday events in the countryside, and celebrations of various festivals and seasons using bright colors, child-like perspective, and idiosyncratic scale. Eroding the sometimes harsh, brutal themes and images of contemporary art, naïve art and its visual authors aim to return us to the simple things in life.

The distinction must be noted from the beginning between these self-thought authors and amateurism. The naïve produces with the same passion as the trained artist but without the formal knowledge of methods. The absence of scale, perspective, the use of saturated colors rather than more subtle mixtures and tones, the refusal to be guided by the compositional rules and theory of art elements, allow for complete self-expression. It is this idea of freedom that appealed to major artists in art history that shaped our understanding of art today. The primitive art of distant civilization was seen as a fountain of innovation for various artists during the post-war period. The simplified motifs, abstraction and flatness of symbols we witness on American quilts and in folk art, today inspire major graphic designers and illustrators. As much as we witness this form as a source of inspiration it is also recognized as an independent genre in its own right and today we witness the rise of exhibition spaces, museums, and collections that celebrate it.

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Left: Henri Rousseau – Portrait Of Pierre Loti / Right: Henri Rousseau – Apes in the Orange Grove. Images via wikiart.org

Naive Art Movements

Considered as an outside art, none of us know exactly when the first naïve painter produced his/her work and when did it enter the bubble that shapes the art today. From cave paintings to the present day, naïve art held its ground. As a visual language that is like a spoken language varying in accent and pronunciation, it can be traced back to the 17th and 18th-century and the works of coach builders, cabinet makers, house and sign painters. The newcomers to America and Canada, who sought to retain their ethnic identity produced artworks that reflected their isolation and the found beauty of their new environment. In Western society, the paintings of Henri Rousseau were described in the publication of the Der Blaue Reiter, an almanac in 1912, and some consider the beginning of naïve art in 1885 when Paul Signac discovered Rousseau’s work. The art in Mexico and the famous Chicano Art movement has the beginning in the mural paintings by self-thought authors that yearned for the keeping of their identity and the celebration of their own community. We must also acknowledge that in countries of central and South America, inspired by mythology, mysticism, culture and tradition, this form of art is to the present day extremely important.

Particularly strong is the Eastern Europe tradition, which began in 1930’s around the Croatian town of Hlebine. Artists gathering around this town formed the Earth Movement that focused on depicting the harsh realities of the peasant’s life. It is here that the birth of glass painting occurred as well. Moving eastward and northward into Serbia, especially the areas around Kovacica and Jagodina, it softened and paintings started to portray the idealized everyday in the village. The Russian tradition developed into two parallel fields – the folk and peasant art rooted in the poetic tradition and symbolism and the urban art.

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Grandma Moses – The Old Checkered House in Cambridge Valley. Image via extravagenzi.com

Naive Artists and Their Followers

It is very difficult to pinpoint the most celebrated artists of the tradition that exists from the beginning of time. As an outside art movement and a production of the self-thought creatives, some still chose to stay anonymous. Yet, the following artists seemed to have helped shape the tradition of naïve and folk art. The production of the celebrated illustrator and master in drawing Henry Darger is considered a representative of folk art, and this, for some, is also true for the famous Frida Kahlo. The already mentioned Henri Rousseau holds a prestigious position as the most important author of Post-Impressionism that is sometimes considered a father of naïve art, while Ivan Generalic, Josip Generalic, and Dragan Gazi, along with Krsto Hegedusic, Miljo Kovacic, and Mirko Virius are the celebrated Hlebine creatives that became a worldwide phenomenon in 1952 Venice Biennale. Zuzana Chalupova, Sava Stojkov along with the famous Robert-Emile Fortin, and Jose Rodriguez Fuster are just a few names on the large list of authors.

Possibly the most charismatic painter belonging to this tradition was Grandma Moses. This renowned American folk painter began painting at the age of 78. The famous New York Times said this of her “The simple realism, nostalgic atmosphere and luminous color with which Grandma Moses portrayed simple farm life and rural countryside won her a wide following. She was able to capture the excitement of winter’s first snow, Thanksgiving preparations and the new, young green of oncoming spring…

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Left: Quilts American Folk Art Tradition / Right: Quilt – American Folk Art Tradition. Images via folkartmuseum.org

Exhibition Spaces and Museums Dedicated to Naive Art

We have seen the rise in interest towards the artworks that are produced by the self-thought artists and today there is an expansion of the number of exhibition spaces and museums that promote this production. The GINA Gallery of International Naïve Art is considered to have one of the biggest collections of paintings, and the Folk Art Museum In New York has since 1961 continued to help shape the understanding of this art form. Close to follow are museums in Kecskemét in Hungary, Riga in Latvia, Jaen in Spain, Rio de Janeiro in Brasil, and Paris. All the institutions around the world, privately or financed by the government preserve the tradition of folk and naïve art and display the continuous originality and creativity of its authors that aim to capture nature, tradition, and life’s celebrations.

Editors’ Tip: Naive Art (Schools & Movements)

The book explores the various roots and traditions of Naïve art and helps us to understand the world of drawings, simple technique, and bright colors that form a poetic insight into the world around us. From the folk art of Grandma Moses, to the time of Rousseau in France and Piromanaschwili in Russian Georgia to the production of the Colombian artist Fernardo Botero, the book showcases the different paths and colors of cultures whose authors are guided purely by the passion for the creation. For anyone interested in exploring production that is governed by intuition and the need to show a brighter side of life than this book is a must have.

All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image in slider: Henri Rousseau – The Dream. Image via monsieurmecenat.tumblr.com;Vestie Davis – New York. Image via folkartmuseum.org; Serbian Naive Art – Kovacica. Image via susieinserbia.blogspot.rs