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For many people, even those who like art, visiting an art gallery can be a traumatizing experience. The walls are stark white, the staff wears all black and the abstract artwork looks like nothing more than the peeling paint of an old barn. While we all crave beauty and a sense of connection with culture, galleries sometimes leave the casual visitor feeling alienated, confused or simply unsophisticated.
In an ideal world, looking at art would be uplifting - an escape from reality.
Crossing the threshold of Gina Gallery of International Naive Art in Tel Aviv, the viewer instantly realizes that the pictures on the wall offer just that: a break from the dark and ugly.
Each work of art in this gallery is an open window onto an idealized vision of life, full of optimism and loveliness, depicting scenes such as family gatherings, harvests or simply a walk in the woods. In a sense, Gina Gallery is a fantasy world, a space where imagination and dwelling in a rosier past is valued more than art theory or snob appeal. It's a place to slip into the simple comfort of cheerful colors, lush vegetation or the happy squeals of dancing children. The works may be direct but they're vivid and inviting, drawing even the brainiest pair of eyes into a blissed-out zone of childlike reality.
Naive art speaks, and the message is often "Relax, remember what matters in life, smile."
One afternoon in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 1983, naive art spoke to Dan Chill. While he had made aliya from the US in 1975, Chill was in the midst of frequent travel as the general counsel for Israeli corporations such as Indigo and Israel Aircraft Industries. As Chill tells it, he walked out of his hotel in Tegucigalpa and saw a painting in a gallery that "spoke to my heart" and bought it on the spot.
From that point on Chill, who is overtly intelligent but "not an art expert," began to ask for the naive genre of art everywhere he traveled. He found a lot of exciting naive art, especially in South America, which began to fill his Kiryat Ono home.
He noticed that guests to his house were riveted by his collection of naive art and ceased to discuss themselves or the Chill family: Conversations centered around the art, its universal message and how odd it is that people don't talk about naive art more often.
Chill realized that the public had no opportunity to see it, especially since around the world naive galleries only exhibit local artists, and there wasn't a naive art gallery in Israel , anyway.
By early 2003 he had more passion for his hobby than his job. Chill quit his law career to devote himself to his current mission: finding, bringing and sharing international naive art here in Israel, in an inviting gallery space with nice lighting.
While the content of naive pictures can be quite varied, the works share certain recognizable characteristics. Mainly, there's a refreshing sense of innocence that could be considered childlike but definitely not primitive, such as bright colors, flattened picture plane and descriptive, but not linear perspectives.
Unlike mainstream art, naive art is not intellectually ambitious - there is no political message or social critique. Rather, says Chill, "The goal of naive art is welcoming. It says: 'Here is a beautiful life that you may have missed.'"
Indeed, naive art's message is simple and easily appreciated by all viewers, regardless of cultural differences. For example, one work by Liliana Grunbum from Argentina entitled "Games with my Grandfather" (2005) shows just that. The chess table on the grass where they play is nestled under the strong limbs of a cherry tree, which in turn is visually embraced by the fluffiest, healthiest white-yellow-red border of tulips any gardener has ever coaxed from the earth.
From Europe, Genevieve Terver-Noel's painting "Five in the Evening" (2006) presents a bird's eye view of a snowy village in her native France, complete with tiny cheerful people visiting their neighbors and holding hands in the illuminated streets. The image is so sweet, it might be made of icing.
These works, along with many in the gallery, are well executed despite the fact that most naive artists are untrained. Since naive artists did not study painting in school, they also missed out on the category - and movement-driven approach to the history of art - and their own craft. As Chill says, "They couldn't care less how they fit in."
The term "outsider" artist does not apply, if only because naive artists simply do not relate to the mainstream art world. Still, Chill fervently believes that naive art should be recognized as valid by the art establishment. He suggests that "Critics think art must be intellectually challenging or it's not art. Naive art speaks first to the heart and later to the intellect."
The style and philosophy of naive art date back to the Stone Age, when the first cave paintings were created in a direct, expressive yet descriptive manner. Naive art is no passing trend - it's timeless. The style is not challenging, but it's comforting.
For Chill, the purpose of art is to give pleasure, to encourage the viewer to "wake up and say 'Wow! It's another lovely day.'"
The Gina Gallery's latest exhibition, A Naive Celebration, featuring more than 50 naive artists from South America, Europe and Israel, is on view from September 4 through October 27,
Mon-Thu: midday-9 p.m., Fri: 10 am-2 pm.
255 Rehov Dizengoff,
Tel: (03) 544-4150.
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