Sunday, December 26, 2010

ArtTraveler remembers Croatia's greatest naive artist, Ivan Generalic

I can say Ivan Generalic  was humble, physically arge, authentically human and simple yet complicated like most great maestros.

Ivan Generalic (each hyperlilnk is different as it's been impossible to import images of his work directly to this blog), first and foremost represented a simple peasant who loved fishing, loved living and the land, and could not help himself from drawing, painting and creating the life around him in ways most personal and intimate.

It was the summer of 1965.

I had just married Lynn S., who had qualified as a Macalester College candidate for the Minnesota, 14-university/college program called SPAN: Student Project for Amity Among Nations.

At the time, I had gone solo to Yugoslavia as a SPAN student in 1963 and then became the organization's president. I successfully campaigned for a group to go to Yugoslavia the summer of 1965, I tgged along..

Lynn (who now, ladden with MS, lives in California and has remarried and has at least one child), and I lived with Ivan Generalic in that summer of 1965, lived with him and his wife, Anka, whilst there for a couple of weeks.

I remember him as a large man with enormous duende or charisma, who had welcomed us with the most open of arms.

By this time, he was recognized internationally as Croatia's greatest naive artist, having first exhibited in 1931.with the help of Krsto Hegadusic.

He painted images on the reverse side of glass, his signature technique.  But he was a true artist: his sketch book was his best friend and he created drawings and water colours we saw and bought from him in 1965 that are today masterpieces of artistic architecture of figures and faces,  intoxicated women coming out of the bar in Hlebine.

In 1965, in Hlebine there were no hostals, pensions or hotels. It was and perhaps remains a remote border village, although at that time, Croatian.

We came based on anticipated hospitality and humanity of these Croatians, then an integral part of the national state called Yugoslavia, when under Tito's quasi-dictatorial rule, the Balkans thrived in relative peace and quiet and harmony.

We were not dissapointed.

Little did I know that under the surface that all hell would break loose many years later and that 500 years of Turkish rule, Catholic vs. Orthodox, Christian vs. Islam,  and other tribalisms would erupt as ugly demons in a struggle for senseless self-destructive nationalism, causing the death of thousands.

No, in 1965, this was the land of peace and harmony, And of course, Slivovitz.

Slavic generosity maximized But I concede there was one time when I had a huge desire to be in the United States.

I was on a bus from God knows where to Zagreb, and suddenly, I had an urge, and I mean an uncontrollable urge and need for a fix: a McDonald's hamburger. Forgive me. For six years in Spain, I have avoided any thought or  temptation of entering a Burger King or McDonalds. Damn them all!

But at the time, I almost felt powerless. I had had so much chivapchichi and raznichi--think skewers (kababs) of mystery meat highly spiced ---that this vision of America returning with vengence overwhelmed me.

I resisted only because in Yugoslavia at that time: no McDonalds or other Gringo franchises existed. Thank God!

I had  to cope with my compulsions and did quite well surviving. It was just a mad moment in time.

What did I learn about Ivan Generalic?

First, his humanity and generosity of Self.

Generalic was a peasant, who from earliest years sought to and did draw and sketch.

What is most important to me is that Hlebine introduced me to authentic Croatian living: No paved roads, a simple agrarian life, a pub that provided Ivan sufficient inspiration for his water colour cartoons, one of which we purchased.of an inebriated woman coming out of the door of the bar.

He and his wife treated us like family.

Generalic was/is in my mind one of the most splendid humans I've met and also one of the most talented.

I am indeed blessed to have had this experience, so intimate and real with him and his family.

And what a culturally diverse train ride it was along the borders of Romania, Hungary, Serbia. And now, to finally realize out of my naivite of 1965 that only centimeters below the surface, millimeters perhaps, there existed the explosives of history only requiring simple ignition to explode into genocide.

I knew Croatians living next to Serbians; Kosovo Albanians living next to Serbians; and having lived at least three weeks in Sarajevo, having both Christian and Islamic friends, the whole upheaval and violence in the Balkans years later blew me away.

It was then I realized history cannot be ignored.

My memories were frozen under the benificent dictatorship of Communist Josip Broz Tito, whom, incidentally, I saw up very close and almost personal as he and Nikita Krushchev in an open limo drove through the main streets of Zagreb in the summer of 1963, the first time a Soviet  leader and Tito had met before 1945, when the pair of countries had a major falling out.

I was on the front line and saw them only 20 meters away. And would you believe, there I was with my Leica M-2 ready to take the ideal photojournalist's picture of the pair of them and when I depressed or sought to depress the shooter button, nothing happened.

I was at that instantly out of film. I laughed but only sardonically.

Tito basically told Stalin to stuff it; if Stalin invaded, the Soviet Army would fail and fall to the same Partisan forces that ultimately defeated the Nazis in Yugoslavia with help from the OSS of the United States.

And now divided, the old Yugoslavia I knew does not exist.

But I love my memories of Ivan Generalic and his small village, Hlebine, which taught me so much about humility and humanity.

God bless Ivan Generalic. His works shall live on until the ends of time.

Rock on and practice peace and love.See ArtTraveler's videos at:

Stefan, the ArtTraveler (TM)

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