Croatian Naive Art
Art Through the eye of a Croatian Cowherd and Peasant

When they speak of Eastern Europe's naive art, people usually have in mind the village of Hlebine in the republic of Croatia near the Drava River, not far from the Hungarian border, lost most of the year in the mist of the Podravina lowlands. In this little place amounting to a few muddy winding streets and one-story houses, a son, Ivan, was born to a poor peasant couple, Mate and Terezjija Generalic, on 21 December, 1914.

At that time, virtually no one had even heard of the village of Hlebine, shrouded in the mist of the Drava plains. The Generalic family lived in an old house plastered over with mud and thatched with straw. "The two windows the house boasted looked out on a large pond complete with dipping geese and wallowing pigs, making an unbearable noise." The description is Ivan Generalic's, made after he had become famous, and it projects a typical picture of the peasant houses and barnyards in most of the Drava River area. Funerals, weddings, churche processions, fairs, work in the fields customs, beliefs and superstitions, nature in the various seasons of the year, all these together make up a mosaic of life as it has been lived on the land since time immemorial.

In the prairie town of Sid in Serm, the peasant painter Llija Bosilj-Basicevic died in 1972. After four years of grade school he tilled the land until sickness overcame him. Towards the end of his life, he was tied to his bed, paralysed. After a hard life of work and worry, Llija Bosilj began painting when he was 63 years old. He had survived wars, come to know people, participated in many events. In his late-blooming painting, he dealt with apocalyptic themes, folk songs, history, Biblical Stories, flying men, birds, animals with two faces. In a brief interval, and as the result of an inexplicable inner erruption, a new naive figuration sprang from this barely literate painter, opening previously unplumbed possibilities in naive art.

In a Croatian village, Gornja Suma, Mijo Kovacic, master of large compositions, transmits to glass with his brilliant technique the behaviour of people during events beyond their control and inexplicable to the peasant mind. For instance, his painting "Northern Lights" shows the fear felt by a peasant at this unusual phenomenon: "The old folks told me," says Kovacic, "that when this light used to appear, people would march in processions praying to God to take away the evil threatening them in this form. My peasants used to act the same way during eclipse of the sun, earthquakes, and even floods, which are frequent in this region."


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