Thursday, February 19, 2009

LOOK: Naïve artist, Nikifor from Krynica (Poland)

Nikifor (perhaps the most unassuming man to ever be known by one name) is commemorated by a prominent piece of statuary here in Lviv. I was told he painted on bits of ephemera like discarded cigarette boxes and paper bags, which piqued my interest. Wanting to know more, I consulted WIKI:

"Nikifor painted over forty thousand pictures - on sheets of paper, pages of notebooks, cigarette cartons, and even on scraps of paper glued together. The topics of his art include self-portraits and panoramas of Krynica, with its spas and Orthodox and Catholic churches. For most of his life he lived alone in extreme poverty in Krynica, and was considered a mentally challenged person. He had difficulties talking and was almost illiterate. Underestimated for most of his life, in his late days he became one of the most famous primitivist painters."

His life is the perfect recipe for primitivist mythology: isolated, nearly deaf/dumb and illiterate and labeled as mentally ill (just the right proximity to 'retardation'). Accordingly, he has recently been the subject of a feature film wherein he is depicted as a pissy, old diogenes type, living with the dogs on the edge of town. 

Exploited discovered late in life, his works are represented in major collections around the world,  where modernist versions of art history still awkwardly lump it in with all of the other "direct depictions of the spirit and emotion of humanity" given to us by Asians, native peoples and other nearly-'retarded'-but-still-able-to-hold-a-paintbrush artists. 

But rather than viewing him as some child or idiot, impervious to moral decay, perhaps he was just a guy looking for respect, a little money for his work and the ability to score with reasonably attractive women. And maybe the utter lack of all of the above is a major reason why he came across as so pissy, downtrodden and 'authentic'.

Either way he produced a ton of interesting images and it is not difficult to find what he was doing in contemporary art. 


Primitive audio from Eero Jahannes, a practitioner of Skwee out of Finland... I imagine he rocks out with 8 bit synth leads from something like a Gameboy or Spellchecker, it is infectious:  

Katt Witt 700 Watts - Eero Johannes


Alice said...

Nikifor's mother was Ukrainian but he was born and spent most of his life in Poland that is why both polish and ukrainian people consider him to be "their":-)

Another naiiv ukrainian painter Mariya Prymachenko spent all her life in a village where she was born. Her works are just fantastic!

Micro said...

couple years age i watched "Mój Nikifor" by Krzysztofa Krauzego and that is when i got interested in Nikifor's works. Thanks for posting this!

fucoid said...

i have seen her images on the side of cars in kiev!

Alice said...

yeah! the world she created on her paintings is full of wonders!

Jenny said...

I never heard of this artist , though i'm from Ukraine! i like a lot the slide show you made!

Bluesfrau said...

Thanks a lot for this introduction. I also much appreciate your down to the point retrospection of the concerns that probably truly mattered to Nikifor. I haven't known about this artist so far, but what you write makes utter sense.

fucoid said...

jenny, pinning down his nationality was nearly impossible... i am still not sure i know what label, if any, to apply... he is of 'lemko' descent, the language being a mixture of ukrainian, polish and slovenian.
and borders were changed so often during his life...

hi bluesfrau, it is another art historicism, trying to elevate painters above humans who need to eat and drink and breath a little oxygen

Bluesfrau said...

Very well said.