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Project RastkoHistory of Serb culture
TIA Janus

Koviljka Smiljkovic

Naive art

Chapter from the book
"The history of Serbian Culture"
The history of Serbian culture  


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Although the birth of modern art did not cause the creation of Naive art, it contributed with its anti-academism to the recognition and acceptance of that art. However, in Serbia as well, this art was accompanied by many questions and dilemmas from the very beginning: from disagreement about its terminological determination (original, folk, primitive, self-taught, rurally amateurish, naive...) to its essential definition. All of that could be discussed, but the freshness and originality of Naive art can not be disputed whatsoever. It has its aesthetic existence and spiritual role.

Janko Brasic: The Park, 1935, Museum of Naive Art, Jagodina

Naive art in Serbia was born at the beginning of the fourth decade of this century, when Janko Brasic, a painter from the village of Oparic, appeared with his first artistic works.

In the thirties, the first works of Serbian Naive artists were characterised by a social note and the bitter overtone of class inequality. Those works brought a message of discontent and indignation caused by life's misfortunes.

That is also typical for Janko Brasic, the oldest Serbian "Naive" artist and the representative of the Oparic circle. He is an interpreter of the authentic collective lifestyle in the rural milieu, an illustrator of folk customs and tradition, and a very good portraitist. During sixty years of his activity, he created a voluminous opus: several hundred paintings, drawings, frescoes, icons and sculptures. The basic features of his creative work are the spontaneity and immediacy of artistic expression, which is true of the majority of Naive artists in Serbia. Through genre-scenes and portraits, he has presented the everyday life of the people from his milieu - field labour, sowing, harvest, ploughing, mowing, feasts, legends, customs and tradition. Besides that, his works possess a kind of immediate narration and authenticity. He was the model for a group of younger authors who have gathered around him for years.

Emerik Fejes: Belgrade, 1967, Museum of Naive Art, Jagodina

Serbia was not spared from great social changes at the end of the 1940s. The technical, economic and civilisational development of the country, changes in lifestyle, as well as the emancipation of personality, all stimulated peasants to leave the village and "rush" into the cities where, being imprisoned in "concrete", they mourned for the ambience they left behind. In the 1950s, a number of self-taught painters appeared in the urban environment and milieu. Unrestrained by artistic rules and formulas, they started painting in an original and honest way, introducing a feeling for the archaic and mythological in their canvasses.

This was an expansive period in Naive art. Many painted, but only the most gifted achieved success. A few of these painters reached the pinnacle of Naive art in Serbia and worldwide.

Sava Sekulic: Jabucilo and Momcilo, 1974, Museum of Naive Art, Jagodina

First of all, three painters of extraordinary talent and imagination, who appeared in 1960s, marked and characterized Serbian Naive art. They are Milan Rasic, Milosav Jovanovic and Dusan Jevtovic. They were all of country origins and their common trait was their search for a lost childhood, folk history and paradise lost. They belong among the most significant authors, with an authentic and specific artistic language. With an abundance of details, a meticulous and plain treatment of vertical and horizontal surfaces, they have created paintings which are dramatic and expressive (Jevtovic), impressive, stratified and mythical (Jovanovic), as well as lyrically inspired and sensitive (Rasic).

Milan Rasic has presented the life of peasants and collective events in the village in a vertical format. By means of colour and traditional iconography, Rasic has given representations which are full of serenity, of idyllic and paradisiacal decor. His paintings are architectonically and thematically located in the milieu of his native region. Those paintings are full of an emphasised idealization, imagination and vision, the decorative stylisation of flora and the comprehension of tradition and customs.

Milosav Jovanovic is one of the rare painters who finds his motifs in folk mythology. The basic elements of his visual art are imagination and dreams. His artistic language is condensed, metaphorical and reduced to gnomons and symbol. He does not narrate, does not retell, but he rather consults, reveals and inspires.

Dusan Jevtovic is considered to be the "most consistent Expressionist painter in our Naive art" by many critics. In his paintings, life is a celebration. Horses - white, blue and red - dynamically and rhythmically trot and fly in his pictures, symbolising strength, spite and heroism. He kept changing the colouring and plans of his paintings. They ranged from green to blue tonality, passing later to the burning tones of blood and new wine. He has sliced surfaces with semicircular plans - the reliefs of his homeland, for example - and he has moved the horizon high into the upper part of the painting.

Anujka Maran: The Church Procession, 1964, Museum of Naive Art, Jagodina

Several centres in Serbia, in which Naive artists have appeared as groups, should be singled out. Besides the Oparic circle, a group of painters from the Banat village of Kovacica, which is inhabited by ethnic Slovaks, is celebrated and known worldwide. Isolated and hermetic, the ethnic group is carefully preserved and cultivated, with the moral, social and historical peculiarities of its ancestors. One could say that painting there has relied the most on tradition and folklore. Its representatives are Jan Sokol, Mihal Bires and Martin Paluska, but the greatest success was achieved by Martin Jonas. His artistic idiom is condensed in several refined strokes, in symbol and metaphor which is deprived of narration, in scene and anecdote. By placing the human being in the centre of the whole world and presenting life in natural colours, he has unconsciously created the formula of the "hypertrophying of extremities". He has halted them and recorded them in pictures, reducing and simplifying his creative ideas.

Martin Jonas: Going to Market, 1963, Museum of Naive Art, Jagodina

In the ethnically Romanian village of Uzdin, not far away from Kovacica, a group of women also began to paint, exchanging needle and thread for paintbrush and palette. Art critics consider them to be rural amateurs, defining their painting as folklore. Even today the importance of their painting is seen only in the poetic transposition of the internal lyrical experience of the world, which is beautified and pure. The most significant among them are: Anujka Maran, Marija Balan, Florika Puja, Ileana Olce and others. Their paintings insure the further existence of folklore and customs.

After the foundation of the Museum of Naive Art in Jagodina (formerly the Gallery of Self-taught Artists of Fine Arts) in 1960, a group of painters from Jagodina and the neighbouring villages was created. The influence of the architecture of the Morava School and of "Rasic's manner" are visible in their paintings. The most significant ones among them are Dobrosav Milojevic, Slobodan Zivanovic and Vladimir Kepic.

In the sixties, another group of Naive artists emerged in Vojvodina, in Novi Becej. It was called "Selo" ("Village") and was founded by Dragisa Bunjevacki. Without having a firm conception and clear orientation, those enthusiasts, dreamers and artistic animators encouraged the awakening of artistic taste and a feeling for art in their region. Besides Bunjevacki, the significant artists are Janos Mesaros and Tivador Kosut, characterised by a distinct artistic language.

Outside of mentioned the groups, there are also painters in Serbia who are separated not only geographically, but also by different artistic expressions, choices of themes and technical procedures. Those are: Emerik Fejes, Sava Sekulic, Ilija Basicevic Bosilj, Sava Stojkov, Pal Homonai and Dobrivoje Stevanovic.

Milan Rasic: In Front of the Monastery, 1971, Museum of Naive Art, Jagodina

A special place belongs to Emerik Fejes from Novi Sad, who, like the French artist Vivenne, painted famous cities in an extremely original way, with amazing and unreal architecture, during his imaginary journeys to metropolises. He is also exceptional because his inspiration did not originate from life and customs. His paintings look like magical, dream- like postcards. In his visions he travelled all over the world, never having to leave Novi Sad.

Sava Sekulic is a painter of stratified originality, which emanates from every layer of his painting and permeates his themes, his stylisation and his breath. Many critics consider him to be a marginal painter, a painter of l'art brut.

Dusan Jevtovic: Winter Weddings, 1985, Museum of Naive Art, Jagodina

Ilija Bosilj, a painter from Sid, is particular and unique in many ways. His work is a combination of the archaic and modern, on the boundary of naive art and l'art brut, but of childlike painting as well. Above all, it is the result of original wisdom, expressed through simplified handwriting and infantile signs, which appear that way only at first sight. It encompasses several thematic cycles, among which the most significant ones are those originating from the Holy Bible, with motives from Serbian medieval legends and epic poems, and with scenes from animal life as well. Another important cycle is "The Iliad", which was not based on Homer's epic poem, but arose from his own mysterious vision of the world.

Sculpture by Naive artists -as a part of Naive art - is not an isolated phenomenon. It appeared at the beginning of 1950s. Unjustly pushed into the background for a long time, it has produced some real master-pieces. Due to its aesthetic value, it has an outstanding reputation worldwide.

Cherishing monumental plastic art and plastic art of smaller dimensions and utilizing chiefly wood as an artistic material (less often stone, clay or metal), Serbian Naive sculptors have shaped visions of their own, very different experiences of the world, using their creative imagination. Among the oldest and the most significant are Bogosav Zivkovic from Leskovac (a village nearby Stepojevac not far from Belgrade), and also Milan and Dragisa Stanisavljevic, Ilija Filipovic, Milovan Mijajlovic Pop, Dragutin Aleksic and others. Unlike Naive painting -- which has had an evolutionary path and has lived through a transformation of style, expression and iconography -- sculpture has preserved its initial form and expression. Like Naive painting, sculpture initially appeared in the rural environment. Well-fitted into the ambience, tradition and heritage, and born out of impulses and a primordial need to express one's experience of the world, the sculptures of the naive artists are heterogenous in content, form, expression, message and theme.

Milosav Jovanovic: Water, 1966, Museum of Naive Art, Jagodina

Bogosav Zivkovic, with his magical-poetical plastic art, is an extraordinary phenomenon, and he is certainly the most significant representative of Serbian Naive sculptors. He has reeled off his mythical visions on totemic columns, lining up heads and figures in a harmonious rhythm and accord. In spite of their disfigured and fantastic forms, his works basically express both the real world and the world of fairy-tales, of tradition and of his own childhood. By means of shallow relief and simple cutter's tools he achieves the dimensional of light and shadow. He frames certain scenes, figures and clothing with elements of delicate ornamentation, thus separating them from the whole and the mass, which is a result of his former training as a furrier.

In brief, the Naive art in Serbia, as a segment of modern fine arts, is a living organism in which nothing is final, in which everything is in movement and development.

The full recognition of Serbian Naive art began with its presentation at the world exhibition of Naive art in 1961 in Baden-Baden. In the following three decades, it was presented at more than one hundred exhibitions abroad, of which the most significant were the World Triennial in Bratislava, the international exhibitions in Frankfurt, Munich, Stockholm and Zurich.

Sava Stojkov: Grandmother Dara, 1977, Museum of Naive Art, Jagodina

A special role in the affirmation of this art belongs to the Museum of Naive Art in Jagodina, the only institution of that kind in Yugoslavia and one of the largest ones in the world. This museum has organised exhibitions of Naive art in the great world metropolises like Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Rome, Bonn, Paris, London, Washington and Melbourne.

// Projekat Rastko / The history of Serbian culture //
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