A Simple Time-Travel Through Whimsy, Colour And Place.
I’m a Naïve artist so you can go and look at my work and you’ll instantly understand right?
Well given the lack of recognition as a valuable contribution to the world of art, until, fairly recently, maybe not!
Put simply I paint not only without any formal credentials but also in a naïve way. I disregard the ‘rules’ of painting.
With art we all know rules are made to be broken anyway.
Consider the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. As our contemporaries you’d be forgiven for thinking it a modern necessity that You MUST break the rules. That producing note-worthy art includes an element of subversion. Beds and Bovine abound!
But in the millennia of art of mankind this has only been a very recent phenomenon.
It wasn’t that long ago that rule breakers were complete outcasts. All destined for the sanatorium. Or destined to an untimely meeting with the Grim Reaper – nope I don’t think I’m exaggerating – think Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock.
As with these two, whether accepted or expected art which subverts and challenges has become part of the ‘norm’. Art whose meaning may be known only ever to the artist (and even here we can’t be sure) has been realised as valuable for that very reason.
Art through the Centuries
If you track the history of art down through the centuries and right back to our earliest endeavours as humans to make our marks in caves, you can actually see a straight line between the two.
Naïve art is very much a part of that line. And as a Naïve artist, my work is descended from those first moments where we began to make pictorial images. Those of our sights and thoughts of our world.
I might even be so bold as to declare that my art has more in common with these cave-painted masterpieces. More so than the works of Rembrandt, Holbein and Turner. But looking deeper into it, I’d be wrong.
On the surface you see a direct link between the whimsical, innocent images of my work and these prehistoric paintings; no perspective; no accurate representations of line, shape and space or even colour.
But in many ways without all the art movements in between I doubt that my art would make sense today. Art has gone full circle from naïve, childlike (some might say) pictures; to increasingly accurate representations of what we view in the world. Through the renaissance all the way to photorealism and back again to a playful but deliberate naïveté.
However, without our history trip through the art world, I doubt my work would make any sense.
Imagine the horror if I were to travel back in time and plonk my artwork onto an easel in the Georgian era expecting to be congratulated for it!
There would be those that would be horrified that I was a woman making art (more on THAT later and in another blog). At best they’d likely smile sympathetically with a ‘poor dear’ expression on their faces for even ‘trying’.
Equally mystifying would be for my artwork to appear on the walls of an Anglo-Saxon Great Hall or Roman villa. I can’t think what they’d make of the bright neon pinks or my profligate use of pricey rich intense blues….
Art Trends – Its All a Question of Time and Place!
You need to look back to see how far we’ve come. Especially in terms of Naïve art.
We might look back to the early sculptures to understand a little more. Think about the Venus sculptures of full-bodied women carved in prehistoric times with little technology available to the sculptor. Yet still with hours of dedication they were able to create something which has stood for millennia.
We might never know what was carved for either pragmatic or artistic reasons. However, the overall image is one that still has resonance today.
Moving through the centuries we then consider how pigments and paints were being applied to other surfaces, not just stone. Moreover, sculptures became evermore delicate and detailed as the technology advanced.
People of each generation congratulating themselves about how much cleverer they were than the one that came before.
In this way we can understand the attraction in wanting to refine and produce ever more delicate intricate and accurate representations of the artists experience to the world, real or imagined.
And down through the centuries our smugness continued.
Think early illuminated manuscripts. The expense of the inks which had to be processed often with toxic ingredients, a painstaking process. Consider also the precious metals that were applied the thinnest of gilts and gold leaf and all on a surface of the costliest vellum.
And then we have colour . . . now this is where things really get exciting – especially for the likes of me!
Down through the ages the colours available have expanded until in the modern age artists are left with a mind-boggling choice. Hurrah for us! Kids in a candy store or magpies in a jewellers have nothing on us artists in an art megastore!
Put in an Appearance – Figures and Faces in Art:
As technology developed so too did the desire to create ever-more sophisticated images. We think back to the relatively flat two-dimensional figures in the Bayeux Tapestry (ironic given the very natures of the surface itself) and other medieval representations of figures and portraits. In this era we can also track the style changes as those in high society conscious of fashions and with money to spend wanted to out-compete their peers.
By the end of this era and into the Renaissance we have the likes of Holbein – large scale and intricate. Then Hillard – miniature and intricate marking out a need to capture the leaders and well-to-dos of the day in all their splendid finery.
Up until this point without a camera, paintings were expensive commissions. So, if you were going to splash the cash, why would you record your possessions rather than you yourself? Indulging in a magnificant fantasied version of yourself, for generations to come? AND don’t forget you didn’t need photoshop just the skills of highly bribed artist to present you at your filtered best.
However, fashions change and money talks. Once it was the people who were more important in the art. Slowly an infectious desire to record land you owned and places you afford to travel to, all became part of the status symbol of wealth. Again no cameras, again ask an artist.
Vistas of far-off shores; Lands claimed by the ruling classes; Battlegrounds fought and won by the gentry; All played an important role in developing the love for landscape art.
Beyond Face Value – A shift Towards Landscapes in Art:
Here of course scale played a part. The bigger the better. By the time of the late Georgians and into the Victorian era, more was definitely more!
Without photography there was also no way other way to create a record of the ever-changing landscape. Alongside the Industrial Revolution and it’s technological developments began a desire to ‘record for posterity’ not only people but places in time. And so the art of landscape painting became a fascination.
Perhaps the biggest influence on modern art however was photography.
Suddenly there was a way to record with accuracy what was set out before us.
Great for accuracy not so great because of, well, accuracy! There was no getting away from the fact that a ‘warts and all’ trend – credited to The Lord Protector himself Oliver Cromwell – was now a blemish here to stay!
The ugliness as well as the beauty could now be captured. Before it could be critiqued and consigned to non-existence in the process of the doing.
With this new bothersome truth telling technology there were many advantages as well however.
With it came an acute awareness of light on the surface in a way we had never been able to capture before. And while this miracle of modern technology was able to present its version to the world it had its limitations.
Artists were still able with their skills of brush and pigment to give to the world something that others could not. Paintings such as Joseph Wright’s ‘An Iron Forge’ pinned onto canvas an energy and drama that the camera was still unable to do decades later.
Right up until the fin de siècle there was such a limitation. The best that could be obtained was by artists or colourists applying paint to the photos post-production.
But technology was catching up.
Explosive Art Movements!
I don’t think it was accidental that with the dawning of colour film there was an explosion of new movements. Within the art world artists began experimenting with the ‘rules’. Why aim for accuracy when at the click of a button a camera could do that?
And honestly artist have fragile egos too. Indeed, there have been movements such as ‘photorealism’ aiming to show artist skills and their response to such technology. New movements came thick and fast. If the camera has ‘been there, done that’ why on earth would an artist want to compete with it? For most of us its not in our nature.
We want to be the experimenters, the innovators and trend setters. And we want to challenge your preconceived notions of how the world is.
So, what to do?
Why everything of course that the camera could not!
Think ‘Surrealsim’ ‘Cubism’ and ‘Fauvism’. Many more besides. Artists in their ‘Blue Periods’. All that have tried to break away from expectation and rules.
And so once again, art took a few interesting turns . . . .
The Beginnings of the Naïve Art Movement
Interesting then that it should be Henri Rousseau (1844- 1910) who is so often credited as being the first of the Naïve artists. His life spanned that of the dawning of photography. Photographs from the early black and white stills into colour and movement ran alongside his life.
Yet here was a painter with high calibre skills choosing to represent the world in a child-like whimsical way. He paints with an irreverence of those that have gone before him. There is an honesty to his work and the scenes he paints are still representative and recognisable depictions of the world.
Proportions and colour are considered yet not accurate. Light plays a strong role in making the worlds he creates seem more real. He seems to dismiss the accuracy of previous works of art by other artists. However, for him there is real skill in his works; In the application of brushwork; In composition; In tonal contrasts and pigments. His landscape paintings did indeed become instantly recognisable as his.
One of Rousseau’s contemporaries was Alfred Wallis. Like Rousseau Alfred came from humble beginnings and also like him his work was barely recognised in his lifetime. His seascapes and coastal landscapes once thought childish and worthless now hang in the TATE.
Like his counterparts though born a little later L. S. Lowry was also to make his mark on the world in this new century. Unlike them however his work was more readily accepted in his lifetime though nearer to the end of it.
His record of the industrial landscapes of the north are now amongst some of the most sought after in the world. His work joins the dots between the portrait artists of yesteryear, following the Cromwellian advice to capture a truth. Through to the landscape painters who followed. Through to a combination of the two. Keeping a style dedicated to the elements of Naïve art.
There has been a slow dawning realisation through Naïve art and movements that came alongside or following; There is real value to be had in pushing the boundaries. There are none. The way in which paint on a surface can depict the world around us, should be at the artists discretion.
Artists have always known the value in this. It’s a handy tool in drawing and directing a social consciousness through the world folks are asked to consider. I’m thinking here of the iconic Guernica by Picasso. Its cubist perfection to many but its also asking difficult social even political questions; a million of them, all on one surface. And hey if you don’t like what the art is asking you to consider either move on or ask yourself why?
Of course the few artists I’ve mentioned here are not the whole story. You may have noticed the lack of a female voice throughout this walk in time. An in-depth study of that is perhaps for another day to do it justice. For now let me mention the likes of Vanessa Bell, Sylvia Edwards, Ann Mary Robertson (aka Grandma Moses) and Beryl Cook. Let’s just say that as time goes on I happily discover more and more of them. In fact I can cheerily say of the artists I follow today more are female than male. For me an instinctive rather than a deliberate choice.
Finding Our Own Artistic Voice
Of the artists that I fervently follow the vast, vast majority of them paint with abandon. Abandon for the ‘rules that once governed ‘good’ art. – rocky mountain oysters to that! (Look it up).
Importantly they disregard and reject what is expected when they believe this abandonment adds to the artwork. This is what I mean by ‘abandon’; abandon where to place a colour; abandon perspective; light; shape; space for realistic effect. SET the rules and re-set them!
Their voices are their own and not the establishment of once revered expectations. Like all artists worth their salt, they question and make the viewer do the same.
What is produced is often inviting and non-threatening. If you can get past the fact that the buildings just wouldn’t be able to stand like that in real-life; Or overcome your suspicion that pigeon would be the size of a Trafalgar square lion were you to actually meet; Then there is a whole world of creativity inviting you to join in. These images are often playful, whimsical and joyful creations.
It is this element that often (not always) speaks to me. They call me to look and decide for myself what narrative they create. There is an element of mischief in their creations. It’s as though the artist knew that in pushing what is real and what isn’t they can draw you into a fantastical world. One in which you’ll probably want to spend time. Making and drawing your own conclusions without having them dictated to you is what it’s about.
What’s the attraction?
Basically these pieces make you think, make you smile and often make you want to look some more. They let you bring your own worldly experience and create your own narrative.
Just like those cave paintings long ago they keep you guessing what the intentions of the artist were. By travelling through centuries with all its twists and turns, we can now reach all the way back. Back to the dim (or indeed brightly coloured) and distant past. We are able to connect the two. It is in retrospect that Naïve art makes sense and speaks to us.
You need that comparison of the past to see how we arrived where we are today.
And where does my work fit into all of this you may be wondering?
Knowing what has gone before helps make sense of the art world today. I say this with a great deal of humility, whilst my style may not be to everyone’s taste it is none-the-less relevant. Relevant as any of the old and celebrated masters or those cave paintings.
And so, for me; What is Naïve Art ?
It is indeed me making my mark on the world in my own and very deliberate way. In MY time with MY voice.
I am a Naïve artist!