Sunday Painters

Ivan Generalic, The Woodcutter, 1959

The term ‘Sunday Painter’  suggests a dabbling in the  practice of painting for spare time amusement and those labelled as such tend to get dismissed in contemporary art circles as ‘amatuers’ and ‘hobbiests’. However, in the late 19th early 20th century the professionalisation of art practice and the realisation of ‘artist’ as a full time career was a remote province for the working class or lower middle class painters working in Europe at that time. Many artists whose work could be considered key in the development of the early modernist movement  such as Paul Gaugain, Paul Cezanne,  Vincent Van Gogh could have all quite easily fit into this restrictive term at stages in their careers.

A painter of this ilk who worked  in a curious quirky style  and manner is the artist  Ivan Generalic (1914-1992). A central figure in the Hlebine School, an artist school formed in the  small rural peasant village of Hlebine in a remote part of Croatia. Most of Generalic’s paintings are done on the back of  glass, a technique that he mastered over several decades and one that reflected his folk roots and craft traditions.

In my opinion Generalic’s painting are a visual  delight  but also an inexplicable blend of the logical and the illogical,  the personal and the universal, the poetic and the realistic.

Oto Bihalji – Merin’s book  Modern Primitives is a fascinating account of  Naïve and Primitive Art made from the late 17th to the mid 20th century. It is no surprise that he devotes some considerable time to Generalic and also one of Generalic’s paintings graces the cover. Bihalji –Merin writes with great honesty and passion about his subject in an almost lost style that makes many recent  art historical texts seem dry and unemotional by comparison. Here is some comments he made on one of Generalic’s most well known painting “The Woodcutter”.

“ Instinctively or knowingly, the naïve peasant painter Generalic has made use of the principle of repetition in order to transcend the actual and visible event and to give his composition an air of symbolism through rhythmic variation. The peasant sitting on the tree swinging his axe is depticted three times as though in mirror images. The strong verticals of the tree trunks are balanced by the horizontal lines of the oxcart and the shimmering peacock which paces so pompously in the foreground. This is a study in simultaneity, one which echos an archaic artistic sensibility and folklore motifs, while at the same time expressing a modern blend of work and daydream. Virtuoso technique and the problematic of the compostiion are already signs that the naïve artist faces questions which are scarcely to be met with simple innocence, but which rather lead to a dramatic creative monologue.” – Oto Bihalji-Merin, Modern Primitives – Naïve Painting from the late seventeenth Century until the Present Day, Thames and Hudson (1971).

Posted by Alison Pilkington.


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