Black and Blue
Life is short, one look and it’s over
Comes as quite a shock
All I got is some memories
Stuck in an old shoebox
“It Won’t Take Long”, on the 1976 Rolling Stones album, Black and Blue
Sifting through Pauline’s shoebox of black and white pictures, I can only imagine the color that adorned her clothes and the houses in the pictures behind her. The most traditional color for Slovak houses in Pivnice is blue, the same beautiful shade that often decorates popular Slovak Modra pottery, and I remember Pauline fondly recalling that color from her childhood. I try to envision blue in the photographs.
The ethnic Slovaks of the villages in the Srem, Banat and Bačka regions of Vojvodina live simple peasant lifestyles that they have carefully preserved and cultivated for over 200 years. They take great pride in their homes, frequently whitewashing their walkways and giving their houses fresh coats of paint. Plastered onto the walls of the house fronts are ornate decorative touches such as religious symbols, floral designs, angels and gargoyles. Houses are often painted bright colors like pink, blue, green and orange, inside and out. More ambitious home owners hand paint patterns, almost like wallpaper, on the outside of their houses or even tile them; the more ornate the pattern, the more prosperous the family is thought to be.
Beginning in 1930, Slovaks in Kovačica took house painting one step further. Color leapt from the walls of their homes to their barn doors, and onto every day household items like pottery, boxes and benches. A visit from an artist encouraged the painters to try their hand at painting on canvas, and the concept of naive painting was born. These self taught artists began to paint the everyday scenes of their peasant life, and in 1939 a small painting club was formed with Janos Sokol, Mihal Bires and Martin Paluska, and later Martin Janos. Soon, painting spread like cholera and more and more village men and women began brushing color onto canvas, often with handmade brushes made from their own hair. In 1964, LIFE Magazine wrote a story about Kovačica, entitled The Peasant Painters of Yugoslavia, which drove the village painters into the international spotlight, causing painting sales to soar.
The paintings include pictures of farm life, colorful Slovak wedding costumes, religious ceremonies and village scenes. Each October, the villagers open their doors to the public, displaying their artwork in home galleries, on street corners and in storefronts. The rest of the year, you can browse and buy paintings from Galerija Babka. You are also encouraged to knock on any villager’s home where more than likely you will find an artist in residence.
Pauline’s collection of family photos depict the same scenes – ducks wandering around the courtyard, snowy winter scenes with frozen ponds, extended families harvesting wheat and hops. It’s wonderful to see her pictures come to life through the works of these naive painters who have preserved their heritage – and mine – in a kaleidescope of color.
For more examples of these beautiful works of art depicting life in the Vojvodina Slovak villages, you can click to see them on Pauline’s Cookbook Facebook pages here. More information about the Naive Painters is located here.