Painting from the heart

primitive art

Puerta del Sol is quite truly the heart of Madrid. Steeped in history and dotted with prominent sights, it pulsates day-long with locals and tourists, all happily soaking in merry Spanish vibes.

In sunny springtime I was one among them, watching the converging of people and browsing through the atmospheric radial streets around Sol that have all forms of entertainment wrapped in their folds.

I let my eyes wander through all things wonderfully vibrant, from the arts to shopping, from cinema to architectural beauties. On one of the streets here I found artists engrossed with paint and brush; and while swiftly viewing their works, my gaze got transfixed on paintings clustered under a board that said ‘pintura naif’.

These were canvases where happy, bright colours had been used for idealised portrayals — almost child-like in perspective — of city-life and countryside. The depictions were simple and real and I enjoyed looking at the works, which had me smiling often. It was the innocence of everyday living that had captured my imagination and as I saw the canvas developing, I felt I was looking at a bedtime story coming alive.

There was a hen and her brood here, a grandma there, a shining sun, swaying green fields and a bright red tractor parked somewhere in between. I was intrigued and wanted to know what ‘pintura naïf’ meant.

Looking around

I walked up to one of the painters to enquire. And in that engaging Spanish lilt his explanation of the two words made it all fall in place. “Pintura is painting and naïf is naïve. What I’m doing is also called contemporary primitive art,” he smiled. “I went to no school. I paint from my heart,” he said and got back to the canvas.

Painting from the heart, the expression the painter used, is so true to primitive or untutored art.

It’s a genre where no restriction of formal form comes into play, thus the simplicity of outlook. In this idiom you express it as you feel it and more than often it’s a romanticised depiction: timeless and optimistic.

The naïve artist, usually self-taught, leads a spectator to a distinctively realistic scenario, yet tremendously individual. Typically, it’s his visualisation of a particular vista, season, event, custom… and these are almost always brimming with hope, for the artist prefers seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses!

“The reason why a naïve canvas is abuzz with cheerful hues, has tones of satire, but overall is wrapped in lots of love that brings happiness to the soul,” the Madrid painter had warmly explained to me via an impromptu translator, one among the many bystanders appreciating the art woks.

Across the world examples of primitive art are available, and though each
society uses local symbolism in their versions, the spontaneity and spirit is universal. The features of this art include bold depictions, shying away from abstract thought and most essentially the constant use of primary colours from the palette.

Naïve artists are also considered keepers of tradition. Spanish naïve art, for example, is said to have found its niche around the end of the 19th century, when the kingdom began witnessing political and economic disturbances. The constant unrest and decaying of society roused naïve artists to safeguard Spanish culture. Thus artists began portraying Spain’s history, royalty, village life, towns, customs, architecture, etc.

In present times, when the world is getting shrunk, where information travels faster than light and technology becomes defunct in a matter of a few days, primitive artists remind us of bygone times when living was less frenzied and small pleasures delighted. As my translator in Madrid put it, “Artists of this century will capture today. And even today, they can see joy in the mundane.”

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