She was my inspiration, not only did she start late, she became famous for a style that was developed more from creativity than training.
Mattie Lou O'Kelly
Villeroy and Bach
Naif (Naïve) Painting
One year for Christmas my husband bought me a set of Villeroy and Bach dishes, each plate and serving piece had a different French country scene, very simple but quite charming. The design on the back was listed as “Naif” and the artist was Laplau. That set in motion my curiosity about this style of painting. Gerard Laplau recently passed away in the past couple of years in France, and he was just one of many naïf artists.
Webster’s definition of “naïf” (naïve) is ingenuous, unsophisticated, unworldly, artless and simple. Artless! How can that be when there is no question that it is a form of art! Anatole Jakovosty explained it well, “If we want to approach the subject of naïve painting with honesty, then we shall have to concede that nothing of what we know about art in terms of the origins of an artistic movement can be likened to the adventure of naïve painting. For this reason, the present and rather recent popularity of naïve painting appears to puzzle and confuse people, dividing the work into supporters and detractors.”
Naïve painting isn’t new but there’s very little written about the subject, perhaps because there aren’t any exact rules to describe or define its style and technique. And, of course, there is its lack of recognition as an art form through the years. It can’t be taught; it must be felt from the heart and from the soul of the painter. It comes from the painter’s vision of how things appear to him or her. It seems to go from the eye, to the brain, to the hand, to the surface. There’s almost a mystery to the finish as the design is not overly planned, rather it begins to unfold little by little until the magical completion. It’s somewhat like telling a story, anticipating the end. Naif paintings have been compared to children’s art, cave drawings and other very simple forms of expression because they are usually creations done by those without formal training. Every true naïve painter has their own perspective of the world which is unique and different from anyone else’s. This is one reason it can’t be taught; it just sort of happens.
A naïve painter invents their own style, and it is usually reflective of their region. For example there is naïf art from Mexico full of bright colored flowers and adobes, French designs that express the European countryside, or African which might be childlike paintings of jungle animals and palm trees. What they have in common is that they are all simple, truly original and one of a kind born from one artist’s image of how he sees it.
Naïve painting can be confused with folkart, but it’s more like folk culture. Even folkart has some sort of basics such as being handed down through the generations in accordance with a set of rules or patterns. There are also bad painters of naïve art that are regarded as “pompiers”, which I am yet to figure out why they would be referred to as “firemen” in French. Though most naïve painters are untrained, it doesn’t exclude some who are trained in art, Marc Chagall is perhaps one of the most notable professionals.
“Naïve pictures are like trifles produced by children playing with form and colors. This does not mean that one should equate naïve painting with paintings done by children though. What long ago was seen as clumsy, awkward, and lacking any painterly skills nevertheless demonstrates an arrangement as orderly as that of any other kind of painting. Its rhythms are consistent; its colors harmonize-only differently. One might say that naïve painters have certain pictorial ideas circulating in their subconscious which, quite spontaneously, demand to be given release” Anatole Jakovsky. Naïve painting is not simply painting for the fun of it, it is an actual individual style developed solely by the
painter, one that they work at continually. The beauty of naïve painting is that it’s timeless, as wonderfully appealing today as it was in days gone by. It might also be called memory painting. In America, two of our most well known naïf painters are Grandma Moses and Mattie Lou O’Kelly. Both painted rolling hills and busy characters with lots of color which were representative of where they lived. Grandma Moses was from Vermont and Mattie Lou O’Kelly was from Georgia. There was a lot of fun and movement in the paintings, especially the ones showing holiday scenes.
I’ve included some lined illustrations on Purple Palette Artist’s group. They are simple enough to do freestyle and you can create your own story in paint by using buildings, trees, and shrubs. Placement is left totally up to your imagination as are the details and the seasons. A building can be a barn, a house, a church or a mill or maybe you don’t even want a building. You can paint mountains or hills filled with leafy trees or tall pines, maybe a little stream running through. Your scene can be a crowded neighborhood with a line of houses or a busy marketplace; perhaps the peaceful seclusion of the countryside. You can choose the time of day, the weather, and the season. This is such a wonderful style, and it’s not difficult at all. Use the size of brush that is easiest to paint the subject matter or the area. There isn’t the need to shade and highlight but do keep a contrast in the colors so nothing gets lost. Naif is how we perceive to paint what is in front of us as well as what is in our imagination. If you would like to attempt a try at such realism, just look out your window and paint what you see. Naïve isn’t only land or seascapes but it can be your impression of animals, birds, and still life. All that is required really is the desire to paint without expectations.
Linda has given us a beautiful pattern for this style of art on our Purple Palette Group, members are encouraged to paint it using their own colors.Thanks Linda for this great article and free pattern!