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The World According To Bosilj

It’s hard to understand life, but it’s easy to paint. You only need to start, afterward it goes with ease. When a picture is finished, you see everything in it is vivid as it is in life, and you realize that every truth has two faces. – Ilija Basicevic Bosilj

Nothing is predestined and impossible in the world of art.

So it wasn’t predetermined and was completely possible for someone who didn’t have the intention of becoming an artist to become one in his old age and to be remembered for being an artist more than for anything else he did in his life.

The richness of spirit and imagination is the essential condition for art to arise and so the opus of Ilija Basicevic is unique and undeniable proof of it.

Life Before

Ilija Basicevic Bosilj (in Serbian – Ilija Bašičević) was a Serbian painter, a classic example of Serbian naive and outsider art. He was born in 1895 in Sid, Serbia (then Austria-Hungary), and died in 1972, also in Sid.

His parents were respected peasants. He was born as the youngest, the ninth child in the family. He finished four grades of primary school (for comparison, nowadays, pupils are required to finish at least eight).

When finished with the education, he started helping his parents in fields and on the farm. He was 19 years old when World War I began. Despite his young age and inexperience, he wanted to go to the army – to see the world (Galicia, Carpathian Mountains etc.).

He tried to switch with his brother who didn’t want to go to war because he had wife and children and didn’t want to leave them. But, it didn’t work for him. He was returned every time, once because of his horses (he wanted the foal to come with him and the mare, but superiors didn’t allow) and twice because of his health.

The war was over and he didn’t go to the army and didn’t see the world. When World War II started, he was married with children. They had to escape to save their lives.

They were in a labor camp near Vienna. There Ilija’s health condition got worse, he got ill of tuberculosis. When the war was over, the authorities took the fields from Basicevic family.

Bad health condition and loss of his fields lead him in a situation where he had a lot of free time that he needed to fulfill somehow. So, he started painting.

The beginnings and The Bosilj Affair

He made his first painting in 1957 when he was 62 years old. He painted an icon of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

His son Dimitrije, respectable art historian and artist himself, later known as Mangelos, didn’t approve his work at first. He even tore up his father’s first paintings.

But it didn’t discourage Ilija. He was persistent and continued to paint. In the beginning he was creating drawings and gouaches and later started painting on different materials (wood, glass, canvas, cardboard etc.).

Dimitrije showed these paintings to his colleagues. Because he wanted an objective opinion, he didn’t tell them whose work was that. They were delighted with a new artist in the world of naive art and decided to invite him to the exhibition.

In order to avoid idle gossip because his son was connected to art, he chose not to publish his name and biography. He was exhibiting under the pseudonym Bosilj.

But, journalists uncovered who stood behind the pseudonym. It was claimed that the author of the paintings was not actually Ilija but Dimitrije and that they did that to make a profit because naive art was then in expansion.

It was named Affair Bosilj and culminated in 1965. In 1965 in Zagreb, he had to paint in front of eminent commission to prove that he is the author of the paintings.

As soon as he began painting, it was clear that they were wrong, that he was unjustly accused. He received apologies from both journalists and respected artists. As a result of this affair, galleries all over Yugoslavia didn’t want to exhibit his works.

But the world recognized this unique artist and appreciated his uniqueness, so his paintings went all around the globe, from Paris, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Munich, Dortmund, to New York, Mexico City, and Japan.

Characteristics and motifs

While most naive artists paint social, usually rural life and the environment around them with sublime simplicity, Ilija takes us in his inner world.

Ilija’s opus can be classified in several major thematic units. Most numerous are paintings with motifs from the Bible, mainly from The Old Testament.

Then there is a series of paintings inspired by Serbian folk epic poems, myths and legends. Next comes cycle Iliad (meaning “the world according to Ilija”) that is named after the artist – Ilija, not after Homer’s epic poem with the same name.

It represents his clash with human stupidity, duplicity and hypocrisy. Furthermore, there is a cycle with numerous paintings of animals, especially peacocks, but there are also unreal creatures with human bodies and animal heads, and reverse – with animal bodies and human heads.

In the end comes a cycle connected to flying and astrological creatures.

Complex allegory is the main characteristic of Bosilj’s paintings. This allegory is best represented through two-faced and duplicity of the figures, both animal and human. It represents his understanding of the world and living creatures.

The artist himself used to tell that all creatures created by God have two faces, they show one in front of the outside world, while the second one is being hidden deep inside them.

People who were close to Ilija exactly knew what animal was representing which neighbor. It was possible to know because Ilija was convinced that the nature of that animal and the nature of that man are matching, and people knew that.

When it comes to interpretation of his work, titles that he gave to his paintings are of a huge help, because we’re never sure what is it we are looking at, is it angel or cosmonaut, wild animal or apocalyptic creature.

Legacy

Rich in age, but poor in health, two years before his death, he donated his painting to his hometown, Sid. In 1970 Museum of Naive Art Ilijanum was founded.

It is still opened and there we can see around 300 Ilija’s paintings as well as some paintings of other naive artists.

His granddaughter is a president of the Ilija & Mangelos Foundation, organization dedicated to preservation and promotion of Ilija Basicevic Bosilj and Dimitrije Basicevic Mangelos.

His work was more appreciated in the world than in his homeland.

In 2007, the magazine Raw Vision included Bosilj into 50 most influential art brut artists of the world. His paintings are spread in galleries all over the world.

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Naive Art – The Art Of A Brighter Reality

There is a colourful world filled with fabulous details, where everything seems peacefully flying and takes a person back to his childhood, evoking coziest memories. That’s the world of naive art.

Term naive refers to something that lacks experience, judgment or wisdom, something natural and unaffected, innocent.

In art, it doesn’t change the meaning. Naive art includes almost all of these. Naive artists have no relevant education, they paint without any awareness of anatomy, technique or perspective, and their paintings are simple, vivid, childlike – innocent.

Naive art is any form of visual art created by individuals who lack or reject conventional education and guidance that professional artists receive. It disagrees with dominant trends in art of their time.

These artists shouldn’t be confused with “Sunday artists”, who paint for fun. Also, it’s wrong to take naive artists for those who don’t know what they’re doing. They create with the same passion as educated and well-trained artists, just without formal knowledge of methods.

Beginnings and Henri Rousseau

It is hard to determine when and where this genre exactly originate. End of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century is the time when this genre started getting more attention and appreciation.

The 20th century was a century of experimentation when traditional ways of expression were left aside and artists were experimenting with new ways of seeing the world and were representing it in an original way.

In that time naive art was discovered. The main figure in naive art was French painter Henri Rousseau, who was discovered by Pablo Picasso.

Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), retired toll and tax collector (that’s why he got a nickname Le Douanier – the customs officer), started painting as a middle-aged man and was self-taught.

He had been exhibiting since 1886, but nobody gave value to his work.

The first person who really paid attention to his work was young Pablo Picasso. He was amazed by Rousseau and considered him a true brilliance.

Rousseau’s works are the most frequently reproduced examples of naive art. He was painting portraits, exotic vegetation and jungle scenes, although he had never left France or visited a jungle.

He found his inspiration in children’s books and the botanical gardens of Paris. The magical world of his paintings doesn’t need any explanation (nor is it possible) in order to be understandable, to speak to the audience.

Maybe precisely because of that, its magic becomes so real.

In his works was finally gained a frank virtue of emotion that Gauguin was trying so hard to achieve. Picasso and his friends considered him as the father of 20th-century painting.

Rousseau influenced many avant-garde painters, including Picasso, Jean Hugo, Surrealists and others. They adopted the artist’s sense of freedom and instinctive approach to the composition.

Characteristics of Naive Art

Colorful, childlike simplicity and frankness are words that best describe paintings of naive art.

This genre turns the reality of adulthood into weightless joys of youth. It creates an altered, lighter reality. This is reached in different ways.

Often, there is an inconvenient relationship with the formal standard of painting. For example, artists ignore three rules of perspective which say that the size of objects must decrease proportionally with distance, the colour must be muted with distance and precision of details decrease with distance.

Breaking the rules is essentially what naive artist does, probably unconsciously, producing works that are geometrically inaccurate with crooked perspective and uneven shapes, as a result.

Also, details appear equally rich, no matter if they are in foreground or background. This makes an illusion that figures are floating or positioned in space without anything solid anchoring them in place.

The absence of perspective is one of the most important characteristics of naive art. Paintings convey a sense of frozen motion and deep, calm space, which contributes the feel that objects are floating.

Naive painters use beautiful, vivid, saturated colors that aren’t matching reality, rather than subtle mixtures, tones and shades.

Figures in paintings are usually shown full face or absolutely strict profile. They rarely cover up much of a face and almost never paint figures entirely from the back.

Intensity and passion are communicated through the figures, especially their staring eyes and preciseness of line and color.

Details are remarkably well-defined, which, besides bright colors, adds to the liveliness of a painting.

Most common motifs are live creatures, people and flora, nature, folklore motifs, and lives of ordinary people, especially rustic scenes.

The focus is on lively characters and rarely on lifeless objects. They paint exotic places, even if they’ve never been there (for example Rousseau’s jungle), fantastic creatures, wild animals, everyday-life scenes, rural life scenes (farmers, mowing the fields, shepherds, pets etc.), landscapes, landscapes under snow, sledding and much more.

Naive Artists

Rousseau is undoubtedly the most influential naive artist, but there are other artists of this genre who are worth mentioning.

Antonio Ligabue, an Italian painter, was one of the most important naive artists of the 20th century. He gained recognition for his work during the 1940s.

Russian painter Nikifor created over 40 000 paintings. Sidney Nolan created landscapes that aimed to celebrate Australian history. Grandma Moses started her artistic career at the age of 78 and was known for her take on American realism.

Serbian painters from Kovačica (most famous is Zuzana Halupova) create great panoramic paintings.

Ilija Bašičević Bosilj, outsider and naive painter, uneducated Serbian farmer, started painting as a middle-aged man, and despite that had solo exhibitions even in New York.

 Connection to other art genres

Naive art is often connected to primitivism, primitive (tribal) art, and confused with folk and outsider art.

Primitive art refers to tribal art from Africa, the South Pacific and Indonesia, prehistoric and very early European art. Primitivism is used to describe any art that imitates or is characterized by primitive art.

Folk art is utilitarian and decorative art that expresses national identity. Usually, folk artists are uneducated, as well as naive artists. It’s obvious why folk and naive art easily confused.

Outsider art represents any work of art that is created by socially and culturally marginal people – undereducated, mentally ill, prisoners – unconnected to the conventional art world.

Appreciation of naive art has increased over years. Today, it is completely recognized art genre that is spread and represented in galleries all over the world.