Sunday, September 14, 2008

Naivism: A Genre Whose Time Has Come

Giovani Galli, "Soft Sunlight" - Italy

For many, the term "naivism" or "naive art" conjures up the verdant valleys and happy hamlets of Anna Mary Robertson ("Grandma") Moses, the luxuriant vegetation and exotic jungles of Henri Rousseau, and the balmy South Sea Isles and pristine Tahitian women of Paul Gauguin. Brazilians identify naive art with the fascinating figures of Ivonaldo; the colorful field workers of Ana Maria Dias; and the resplendent forests of Louis Ferreira. Eastern European naive art is associated with the powerful village scenes of Ivan Generalic and Martin Jonas, while, in Israel, we recall the rich Biblical scenes and Kabbalistic imagery of the Safed watchmaker Shalom Moscovitz, lovingly known as "Shalom of Z'fat," and the anachronistic phantasmagoria of Gabriel Cohen.

Naivism Defined

Naivism or naive art is characterized by a refreshing innocence and the charming use of bright colors, child-like perspective and idiosyncratic scale. It portrays simple, easily-understandable and often idealized scenes of everyday life. The naive artist - often self-taught - treats us to a uniquely literal, yet extremely personal and coherent, vision of what the world was, is or should be. It offers us, often in painstaking detail, a timeless and optimistic depiction of an ancient story or Biblical tale, an ordinary occurrence or current event, a special ceremony or daily activity. The naive painting bustles with color and excitement, brims with wry humor and candor, bubbles with unbridled empathy and love.

The Universality of Naivism

The visitor to a naive art gallery or museum is struck by the genre's mesmerizing nature and near-universal appeal. Perhaps this appeal stems from the celestial, joy-inspiring palette of colors chosen by naive artists to portray their subjects. Maybe it is the enchantingly simple scenes, which recall an earlier era, when life was less frenetic. Or could it be the timeless nature of the subject matter, reminding us of opportunities missed, of wondrous roads less traveled? One conclusion is certain: this is art that warms the heart and soothes the soul!

Naivism's timeless, universal appeal also stems from the fact that it is "art that warms the heart." This phrase is not platitudinous; it is factual. Artworks of most other genres - expressionism, cubism, surrealism, abstract and the like - provide us, initially, with an intellectual challenge; only later (if at all) do they touch our hearts. Naive art's initial impact is upon our hearts; only later are our minds engaged. Perhaps this is why the lovely figurative image - of the artist dipping her brush in her heart before beginning to paint - befits naivism so perfectly.

Expanding the "Mainstream"

The art world has erected and nurtured a wall of exclusivity - distinguishing those who are "in" from those who are "out." In the 1980's, Henri Rousseau, the pioneer of the art movement in Eurpoe, was considered an "outsider," and was forced to display his works outside of the Establishment's halls, salons and museums, But he was not alone: Van Gogh, Lautrec, Seurat, Bonnard and Matisse (to name but a few) were labeled "outsiders" as well, and were excluded from the same institutions. In light of the pantheonic heights of the art world assumed by these artists today, it is clear that very few art connoisseurs are graced with the vision and wisdom to discriminate between the great and the commonplace, the immortal and evanescent.

Today, when a person well-versed in the art world is asked what is naive art, the respondent often mentions the artworks of Henri Rousseau or "Grandma" Moses. Indeed, Rousseau and "Grandma" Moses are excellent examples of naive artists; that their names come to mind is certainly understandable. Happily, however, these "giants" are but two of the thousands of talented naive artists who have, throughout the ages, thrilled us with their brilliant artworks. The world deserves to be conversant, as well, with the works of Genevieve Jost (Canada), Genevieve Peyrade (France), Marie-Louise Batardy (Belgium), Hedvig Makai (Hungary), Sophia M. Kalogeropoulou (Greece), Dusan Jevtovic (Serbia), Pero Topljak Petrina (Croatia), Ivonaldo (Brazil) and Roque Zelaya (Honduras), to name but a few. The artworks of these individuals, and those of their many talented colleagues, comprise an undiscovered cornucopia of art treasures.

GINA Gallery: A Pioneering Naive Art Venture

The effective display, marketing and promotion of naivism is on the critical path to changing the world's image of naive art and to overcoming the existing ignorance and prejudice regarding the genre.

Much money is required to achieve this goal, and, understandably, most entrepreneurs are reluctant or unable to finance all (or even a major portion) of these expenditures silmultaneously. As a result, we find naive art establishments that have less than optimum space or staff, or less than optimum lighting or street frontage; that are far removed from the city centers; or that are inadequately advertised and promoted. Regrettably, we also find galleries that do not print high-quality printed matter, thereby failing to present naive art in the most favorable light.

The Bible (Ecclesiastes, XI: 1) urges us to "cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it." This advice appears to be especially relevant to the world of naivism: we must spend money to make money.

By gathering and displaying worldwide naive art in an environment of joy and cheer, and at an easily -accessible site, with proper lighting and space, and with the support of museum-quality catalogues and other printed matter, GINA Gallery intends to expand the existing art lovers' awareness and appreciation of this multifaceted art form, and to introduce the wondrous beauty of this unique, approachable genre to those who have been reluctant (for whatever the reason) to visit art galleries and museums, thereby allowing naive art, and those who paint it, to assume their proper place in the pantheon of the art world.

The Dawning of the Age of Naivism

We are living in a world of overdrive. Frustrations are increasing; little joys and peaceful moments are vanishing. Nature's resources are diminishing; its beauties are disappearing. Technologies are dwarfing humanity and overwhelming society.

One senses a silent revolution in the offing: people seeking refuge the frenetic pressures of the outside world, and - at least in the pleasant confines of their homes - to experience joy and peace.

Naivism is therefore a genre whose time has come. Naive art returns us to the happy life of timeless values, themes and traditions; to heartfelt images of farm workers and village life; to joyful celebrations and festivals; to portrayals of common folk moving to the beat of a different drummer. Naivism's innocent, idealized world, its rich palette of colors, its peaceful narrative of the day's events, remind us of happier moments and sunnier climes, a refreshing taste of a better place and time.

By embracing naivism, we support the naive artists' quest for "Paradise Lost" and encourage them to share their timeless vision of everyday life, to bare the child-like ruminations of their hearts and souls, and to relate - by means of brush, paint and canvas - the fairy tale figments of their fertile imaginations.

This is the dawning of the Age of Naivism, and the world will hear - and heed - the genre's clarion call: "Don't be naive, buy naive!"

Dan S. Chill, Managing Director
GINA - Gallery of International Naive Art
c All rights reserved September 2008

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