Deep Dive: Croatian Naive Art

Elizabeth Meade takes Deep Dive this week with a piece exploring Croatian Naive Art.

Elizabeth Meade
19th May 2021
Credit: The Croatian Museum of Naïve art, via Facebook

What is naive art? Not to be confused with 'native art' or 'folk art', naive art is typically accepted to be art created by artists without formal training. While naive art is sometimes considered to overlap with 'folk art' and 'outsider art', the Art & Architecture Thesaurus differentiates these terms. 'Folk art', in their definition, is 'created according to specific cultural traditions' and 'outsider art' is 'created or collected according to a philosophy of the avoidance of, rather than simply a lack of, traditional training'. While all of these terms remain controversial in the world of art, naive art is almost always characterized as that of artists who are not professionals.

I first discovered this particular subgenre when visiting, where else, the Croatian Museum of Naive Art in Zagreb. While I am certainly not an expert on the genre, the works displayed here are a great introduction to some of Croatia's notable naive artists and works. You can read an interview with the museum's director here.

It's difficult to characterize Croatian naive art, but there are a few commonalities between many artists and works. As most of the artists in the genre are and were considered to be ordinary, working people, daily life is a common theme in such works. It is common to see images of farms, people, animals and nature, although some works do depict cities. High levels of imagination with regards to both material and form are also common. Perspective is not always applied in a traditional fashion and imagery is sometimes dreamlike. Despite utilizing imagery that may traditionally be seen as idyllic in Western European works, negative themes of sadness and tragedy are heavily featured as well.

The Croatian naive art movement can be traced back to the village of Hlebine in the early 20th century. Here, artists such as Ivan Generalic and his son Josip took inspiration from their surroundings, developed unique styles and inspired future generations to continue the movement. More recent artists include Ivan Vecenaj (1920-2013) and Zlatko Kolarek, who is still living and painting in Hlebine.

Credit: Ivan Vecenaj, The Croatian Museum of Naïve art, via Facebook

Personally, some imagery in the genre that stands out to me includes the trees of Ivan Lackovic Croata. These embody a bleak but peaceful feeling in various works relating to the seasons. I also admire Ivan Generalic's detailed roosters, which stand on rooftops, watch solar eclipses and even show up in a funeral scene. According to some sources, they symbolize events such as disaster or death. That said, I still have a lot to learn about the genre and will certainly find even more details to love over time.

If you are interested in seeing some examples of Croatian naive art, much of Generalic's work (and that of a few others) can be found here.

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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Meade
Science sub-ed and Chemistry major. Avid reader. Chaos theorist. Amateur batrachologist and historian. Rock fan. Likes cybersecurity and cooking.

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