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An Introduction to Naive Art
By Jan and Adrie Martens
What is Naive Art?

Nobody knows exactly when the first naive artists appeared on the scene, as from the very first manifestations of art right up to the days of the "Modern Classic", naive artists quite unconsciously bequeathed us unmistakable signs of their creative activity. At all events, naive art can be regarded as having occupied an "official" position in the annals of twentieth-century art since - at the very latest - the publication of the Der Blaue Reiter, an almanac in 1912. Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, who brought out the almanac, presented 6 reproductions of paintings by le Douanier' Rousseau (Henri Rousseau), comparing them with other pictorial examples. However, most experts agree that the year that naive art was "discovered" was 1885, when the painter Paul Signac became aware of the talents of Henri Rousseau and set about organizing exhibitions of his work in a number of prestigious galleries.

Myself, Portrait Landscape, 1890
Henri Rousseau
Prague, Narodni Gallery

The oeuvre of a good artist reveals his attitude towards the world we live in, the naive artist in particular being rooted with absolute immediacy in his environment as, untrammeled by all theories, he strives to give pictorial form to his personal vision - on canvas, paper, wood, pasteboard, etc. His way of seeing the world cannot be acquired and makes for highly individualistic art. This art cannot be copied, and any attempt to paint in "naive style" is doomed to failure from the start.

The naive artist has no academic background. To a certain extent he also works without formal technical qualifications and with a remarkable indifference to perspective. Naive artists come from every conceivable socio-economic background and have the most widely differing occupations. Uninfluenced by art traditions, they come to grips with their personal experiences and paint pictures mirroring their memories, desires and dreams. The themes they choose are frequently related to their childhood, the place they were born in, the surroundings they grew up in, their workaday routine and festive occasions, but also encompass political, historical and social problems, not to mention fantasy utopian worlds. Naive artists are thus genuine personalities, distinguished by an original and unmistakable stylistic independence. They also have a relatively unabashed approach to art's formal demands, often delineating the significant detail with the most meticulous precision.

Take Grandma to the Bus
Jan Martens

These together with a deeply felt seriousness of approach - are the main characteristics of naive art. The naive artist's attempts at perspective and spatial effects are evident to anyone looking at his pictures, but he is indifferent to such missing attributes, being concerned solely with the impact of the picture as a whole. Selecting the colors is never a problem.

SeIf-assured, as if following the instructions of an innate coloring handbook, he applies the colors of his instinctive choice, sometimes surprisingly and boldly, yet invariably harmoniously. This is precisely the area in which the naive artist most obviously displays his inborn talent. Furthermore, national character in environmental, religious and social terms is more forcefully expressed in naive art than in any other art form, folk art excepted.

Ko Du Porc
Adrie Martens

The naive painter is more closely linked to these personal experiences of his than any other type of artist. It is hardly surprising, then, that appreciable differences exist between naive art hailing from, say, France, The Netherlands,Russia, Germany, Brazil, Poland and ex-Yugoslavia, to take various countries at random.

The pseudo-naive pictures painted in the 1970s for exclusively commercial purposes are nothing but feeble imitations of real naive art. The Sunday Painters and Housewife Painters, who often tend towards dilettantism, are just two examples of such faux-naive painters. It is precisely in their ranks that the majority of epigones are to be found, with their sorry attempts at imitating the work of great, independently-minded naive artists.

Trudy, My Lovely Pig
Adrie Martens

Naive art must be rigorously distinguished from pseudo-naive naive art. The non-authentic "naive" greenhorn will try to imitate genuine naive models, perhaps even endeavoring to perfect his technique by attending evening classes at adult further education institutes. In the hope of attaining the optimal naive effect he seeks, the "copy-cat", pseudo-naive painter resorts to so- called "naive stylistic methods." The craftily calculated and disingenuous products thus produced, generally geared as they are to commercial success, have nothing to do with authentic naive art.

As mentioned above, naive art is very much individualistic art, the real naive artist usually operating in isolation without any formal training or artistic models, following the dictates only at his own fundamental urge to paint and drawing solely on his own internal creative resources. This is one of the factors distinguishing naive art from folk art, which is bound up with usage, custom and tradition naive art also differs from the art produced by primitive tribes, which is generally bound up with mystic and cultural influences. Naive art also rules out all formal groups of artists, as it can be neither taught nor learned. The distortions that we notice in naive pictures do not indicate, as in the case of children's paintings, any lack of practice in reproducing the object observed.

The naive artist - who, incidentally, often starts painting when he has time on his hands" in old age - has a lifetime of "lived" experiences and practical skills at his disposal. His artistic signature remains unchanged, a signature abstracted from the start from a ready-made vocabulary of forms. In contrast, the child, having passed through a phased developmental process, will be able to overcame his initial clumsiness by the formal acquisition of learning - provided that he receives an appropriate education and is talented enough to benefit from it. Both the naive artist's form of representation and the representational content itself remain largely unchanged. What such an artist shows us of the world he lives in and at his own experiential territory bear the stamp of narrative authenticity.

Naive art in no way came into being as a negative reaction or an all too rosy antidote to intellectually over-burdened modern art. It would be far more accurate to regard the independent self-containment of its images as frequently acting as a stimulus to modern art. Paralleling the movements of 20th-century art naive art is in a class of its own

Authors: Charlotte Zander, 1992 and Jan ( Maurice) Martens, 1999

Be sure to visit the Naive art site of Jan and Adrie Martens!

Jan (Maurice) Martens: Jan Martens was born in 1943, in the small village of Gennep in the Netherlands. Highly impressed, and ultimately influenced by the paintings of the Yugoslavian naive Painters, Jan has developed his own recognizable naive style, painting the memories of his childhood in primary colors.
The many holidays in France, which he enjoys with his wife Adrie and their children, as well as the countryside of the 'Land van Maas en Waal' where he lives, are a continuous inspiration for Jan. People and animals are the most important themes in his paintings, which he signs "MAURICE". During the last 20 years in which he painted in a naive style,he exhibited his naive paintings in several galleries and public buildings in the Netherlands, as wll as abroad. His work is in possession of private persons, naive art collectors and institutions.
Adrie Martens: Adrie grew up in The Hague, a town in Holland. In 1968, she married Jan (Maurice), the naive Painter, and they had two children. During the period when their children were growing up, she had no time and no inspiration to make paintings! Finally, in 1991, when her son and daughter left the house, she was able to start her painting hobby again.
Since her childhood, Adrie was always surrounded by lot of pets. In the period when she was growing up in the country, she kept sheeps, a goat, rabbits, ducks, chickens, cats, a dog and a lot of other lovely beasts! Thats why she is inspired by them. People with animals, which she paints in a naive style, are the most important objects in her paintings. Today, her work is in possession of private persons, collectors and institutions around the world.