Croatian! Modern Primitive
Art of Peasants and Buttonmakers

In returning to the genesis of this art, we must recall the setting of the thirties: the Depression, unemployment, workers without money and peasants without land. Hlebine had the same social problems as the rest of the country. The social injustice, the burden of taxes imposed by the pre-war regime, were taken up as a theme by the peasant-painters Ivan Generalic, Franjo Marz and Mirko Virius, three village lads, three comrades. Their first exhibition, supported and organized by progressive artists, students and workers, and attacked by the authorities and official critics, carried a message of dissatisfaction and refusal to be reconciled to the situation. These early works, watercolors, fashioned by an unskilled peasant hand, on themes such as the enforced auctioning off of a peasant's belongings for unpaid taxes, peasant rebellions, arrests and all the other things that made up life in the narrow village circle those men moved in and belonged to are now part of history.

In the summer of 1969, in a suburb of Novi Sad, Emerik Fejes, buttonmaker and combmaker, died in his sixty-fifth year in a meagre setting differing radically from the luxury he created in his works. His dream of travelling was never fulfiled so, afflicted by sciatica and asthma, he took trips the only way he could with the help of the postcards he collected.
Apart from the buttons and combs made by him in his small flat, he left behind several hundred paintings on paper showing the rich fašades and squares of well-known European and overseas cities.

Dragisa Bunjevacki of Novi Becej, café musician, circus worker, a man without a home or any financial means, was in many ways an unusual phenomenon among naive artists. Asked why he did not own a bed, he replied: " Why should I? The minute I purchased one, life would have passed." He died in 1983.

Franjo Mraz was born in Hlebine. After his elementary schooling, he farmed until the Second World War. When twelve years old, he received a gift of watercolors; this event marked the beginning of his work as a painter, in which he preserved tirelessly until his death. "My mother once sent me to town to pay a tax. I passed by a shop window with paints and paper and bought them, as I could no longer live without them. Of course, I did not pay the tax. When my mother found out, she complained to her neighbours, who paid their taxes regularly, and they said I would be a wanderer, never a real man. They were right about the first, and I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't have been better for me to have remained a peasant. When I went out into the field, I always carried a tablet and drew while the cows slowly pulled the cart. Sometimes it took me two hours to get to the field. During that time, I used to look around, and while the cart creaked along, I sat in it drawing, without a care in the world"


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