Primitivism - the art of spiritual immediacy

18/02/2022
Primitivism - the art of spiritual immediacy

In a large family of styles and trends in the visual arts, primitivism (other names: naive art, naive art) has always stood aside. We can safely assume that it is as ancient as art itself, as well as the very desire to speak the language of artistic forms. The deceptive simplicity of style hides a powerful ideological concept that can reveal the deepest and most sincere aspirations of the human soul. In the era of easel painting, primitivism goes underground, giving way to younger and more ambitious trends. But already in the 19th century, artists found a philosophical justification for naive art, rediscovering it for European art.

History of Appearance

The first primitive artists were the creators of wall paintings in caves. The simplified depiction of figures of people and animals in hunting scenes was used for teaching and conducting magical rituals. But even then, the first attempts are observed to evoke in the observer with the help of visual images what later humanity will call aesthetic pleasure. Ancient artists did not strive for realism and depicted the world around them only in general terms, recognizable to the viewer. In the following millennia, the artistic language primitivism was mainly used by children or self-taught artists who have not received a professional education. Slowly breaking away from the folklore vision of the world, he could not reach the height of the style of academic painting. Therefore, naive art was never taken seriously by recognized masters.

Everything changed at the end of the 19th century, when, after the beginning of the revolution in the visual arts, artists turned their attention to the philosophical aspects of the technique of simplification. Visually, nothing has changed: there was still no linear perspective in the drawings of the primitivists, and all objects were depicted as flat. But this way of presenting reality seemed like a method of returning to real art, in which a person created for the sake of creativity itself, without thinking about the socio-political situation, prestige, money and the dictates of the canons. Simplification experiments were among the first to be carried out Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso. Acquaintance with the art of the inhabitants of Africa and the islands of Oceania added a touch of exoticism to the works in the new style.

At about the same time, Europe begins to reconsider the policy of colonialism, built on the belief in the existence of high and low (barbarian) cultures. The art objects of tribes from distant lands, which were considered primitive only yesterday, are gradually gaining popularity among the Western European public. Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, Maurice de Vlamnik, André Derain and Henri Matisse also show interest in the cultural achievements of peoples outside of Western European cultural discourse. The works of these artists laid the foundation for a new direction in painting, challenging the truth of traditional ideas about creativity. The success of primitivism in Europe inspired artists from other countries, and soon its artistic language defended its right to exist and respect.

Artistic features of primitivism

1. Lack of linear perspective. All objects on canvas are placed in the foreground. Visually, the viewer can easily distinguish between the central object and the background, but due to the lack of leading lines and landmarks, everything seems flat. Unlike paintings with perspective, here all parts of the composition can be depicted with maximum detail.

2. Refusal to display three-dimensional images. Artists do not use shadows, highlights and other techniques to visually deepen objects on canvas. Sometimes the image is simplified to its symbolic form, vaguely resembling a physical object.

3. Violation of proportions. On canvas, plants, houses, bodies of people and animals are slightly distorted for the sake of greater expressiveness. Taking into account the cultural background of the viewer, the artist focuses on those outlines that in our minds are associated with a real object.

4. Rejection of the principle of realism. The main task of the primitive artist is to show the world in its human dimension, and not the world itself. The images passed through consciousness change in accordance with the worldview, cultural experience and stereotypes of a person. Real naive art can be created only by masters with an eternally young soul, tempted by the complexities and contradictions of our world, but choosing childish simplicity. Of course, only professional artists put such a philosophical message into their work. In all other cases, we run the risk of confusing simplification with amateurism and the lack of basic drawing skills.

Famous primitive artists

Henri Rousseau. He devoted himself entirely to painting at the age of 49. Before that, Rousseau managed to visit the army, work as a bailiff and a customs officer. Passion for art pushed him to paint landscapes right at the workplace, for which he received the nickname "customs officer". Rousseau developed his own style by copying paintings from Parisian galleries, and he looked for plots for his canvases in the botanical gardens. The lack of art education and great enthusiasm radically influenced his author's style. In his works one can often see a violation of perspective, color balance, proportions and dramatic redundancy. He painted with a childish naivety and treated boasting, slightly covering the ridicule of his contemporaries, in the same way. But this did not prevent him from taking part in exhibitions and continuing his studies. You can evaluate the professional growth of the artist by the paintings "Customs Outpost" (1890) and "The Hungry Lion Pounces on the Antelope" (1905).

Anna Moses (Grandma Moses). The artist began her career in painting only after the death of her husband at the age of 67. On her canvases, she depicted what she saw around. Picturesque rural landscapes and everyday scenes did not differ much originality, but the sincerity of such a vision of the world turned out to be incredibly attractive. A year after the start of his career, Moses is receiving the attention of the general public. One of her paintings is printed in a newspaper, after which the whole world will know about it. At the age of 89, she received the National Women's Press Club award from US President Harry Truman.  On the centenary of the artist, her photograph was on the cover of Life magazine. Some critics argue that the artist painted a simple lifestyle that was no longer available to her contemporaries. This explains the popularity of Moses' paintings. An idea of ​​her style is given by the works "Checkered House", "Apple Butter Making", "Catching the Thanksgiving Turkey".

Niko Pirosmani. The Georgian primitive artist spent most of his life working in various jobs, not forgetting about painting. He did not receive a systematic education, preferring to compensate for everything with a love of art and a desire to paint. Over time, he managed to concentrate and completely move on to fulfill various orders for the design of signboards, painting the walls and windows of establishments, sometimes for money, and sometimes for food. Popularity came to the artist a few years before his death, when futurists and art historians became interested in his work. Most of the works could be found in the drinking establishments of Tbilisi, where they did not arouse much admiration of visitors. Today, the cost of some of Pirosmani's works reaches a million dollars. For example, "Roe deer by the stream" in 2016 was sold at auction Sotheby's in London for 629 thousand pounds (about 916 thousand dollars).

Primitivism in Ukrainian art

Ukraine gave the world such masters of naive art: Kateryna Bilokur, Mariia Prymachenko, Dmytro Moldovanov, Olexander Naiden. Kateryna Bilokur was born into a rural family that did not share her passion for painting. Because of the desire to save money on clothes and shoes, the parents did not send Kateryna to school. The lack of a certificate of school education was the reason for the refusal to enter the Myrgorod College of Artistic Ceramics. Despite all these difficulties and the resistance of her parents, the future legend of Ukrainian naive art continued her studies on her own. At first, I had to do everything secretly, drawing with a piece of coal on the fabric. In adulthood, she still managed to defend her right to choose a life path, after which she already painted with paints, not hiding from her relatives. Due to inclinations that were strange by the standards of rural life in the first half of the 20th century, she never married and lived all her life with her parents, and then with relatives. Kateryna became famous for drawings of flowers. The lack of art education did not prevent her from choosing delightful color solutions and painting truly warm and cheerful pictures. For the sake of searching for new colors for her canvases, she could leave home for several tens of kilometers. Thanks to the help of Oksana Petrusenko, in 1940 Bilokur held her first solo exhibition, and already in 1956 she received the title of People's Artist of Ukraine. Three paintings by the artist «Tsar-Kolos», «Birch» and "Collective Farm Field" presented at an exhibition in Paris. It is said that Pablo Picasso really liked the canvases of Bilokur.

Maria Prymachenko was born on December 30, 1908 in the village of Bolotnya (Kyiv region) and lived 89 fruitful years creating more than 650 paintings. Her paintings often depicted non-existent animals and beasts from Ukrainian fairy tales and legends, fantastic flowers, scenes from rural life. The artist had no professional secrets in her arsenal: she painted on whatman paper with ordinary brushes, using gouache and watercolor, which provided a bright and dense decorative base with expressive outlines and graphic contours. Maria Prymachenko is an Honored Art Worker of the Ukrainian SSR, People's Artist of the Ukrainian SSR, and is also the owner of the State Prize of the Ukrainian SSR named after T. G. Shevchenko, the Order of the Badge of Honor, and the Medal of Honorary Badge of Distinction of the President of Ukraine.

Tips for choosing a picture for the interior

Naive art fits perfectly into modern interiors. The desire for simplicity of forms allows artists to pay more attention to the elaboration of details and color balance. When choosing a canvas, you need to clearly understand what tasks it should perform in the interior. For example, a painting can enliven plain walls with bright colors, or complement the color palette with another shade in the selected spectrum. The plot of the picture is of great importance. For children's rooms, you can pick up paintings with animals or characters from fairy tales. Landscapes of nature are more suitable for a living room or kitchen. Most of the masters working in this style have a professional education and can paint a picture with a very complex and thoughtful plot. Such works can become decorations on the wall of an office or a banquet hall. It all depends on the worldview of the owner of the house, his personal style and the desire to tell his guests about his views. Love for naive art may indicate a desire for simplicity and spontaneity, honesty in relationships and spiritual freedom. True connoisseurs of beauty will definitely pay attention to such a canvas and will take into account the aesthetic preferences of a person when building relationships.

KyivGallery art critic

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